Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

ADJOURNMENT - Cairns: Keriba Omasker Memorial

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (19:38): On Saturday, 1 December, I had the incredible honour, with my friend Elida Faith, our candidate for Leichhardt in North Queensland, to represent Mr Bill Shorten at the moving tombstone ceremony which commemorated eight young lives which were tragically lost four years ago in the city of Cairns. Many people would remember the shock, the horror and the immense grief that was caused by the tragedy of the loss of these young lives and the way the communities came together to grieve and to hope that such a tragedy would never happen again.

In the beautiful Torres Strait Islander culture, there is a traditional tombstone opening ceremony, which cultural protocol dictates be called 'Keriba Omasker', which means 'our children' in the Erub Island dialect of the Torres Strait Islander language of Meriam Mir, a language of the children's heritage. At a time many years after the actual funeral ceremony, there's an opportunity for the community to gather together again to end the formal period of mourning and to start the period of genuine celebration and acknowledgement of the spirits that have been lost and are still with us. One of the most beautiful elements of the Torres Strait Islander culture is that they believe that the spirits of those who have passed do not go beyond us; they actually go beyond the sunset and continue to be with us so that we can share with them, remember them and keep their memories alive into the future.

The ceremony actually involves the time that the tombstones are made public to the community. The night before the ceremony, family members gather and they decorate each of the graves with mementos of the family and also with magnificent, beautiful quilts and colourful decorations. This is actually marking that transition period between grief and the time of remembrance. In many ways, whilst incredibly sad-the grief was there amongst the hundreds of people who were gathered at the Cairns cemetery-overwhelmingly, this was a time of joy because we were remembering eight innocent children who died together; it actually gave our community the chance to come together and move beyond that intense grief.

It was an intensely beautiful and moving ceremony. We had a number of hymns in the language of the Eastern Islands. Anyone who has had the beautiful pleasure of hearing Torres Strait Islands music can think about how the harmonies sang out across the beautiful Cairns cemetery. There's been a special area put aside where the eight graves and their tombstones are gathered together so that people can come and remember and think about these young lives, the joy they gave us and also the chance that we know they are still with us in many ways.

One of the more important elements of the ceremony was a message from the Torres Strait Regional Authority, which was given by Mr Joseph Elu, the member for Seisia, one of the areas in the Torres Strait. He called upon the people who were gathered there together to remember their culture. In the time of grief and the time of living, their beautiful culture will bring people together. All of the families and all of the friends who were there should constantly remember the beauty of the Torres Strait and always try to go home as much as possible so they can continue to share and to understand.

The Torres Strait Islands have a great religious spirit, and a number of the local pastors were there to ensure that we joined in prayer. Amongst the hymns and the prayers, family members were able to come forward and to gather around each of the tombstones to remember the people and join in the anointing of the gravestones and the cutting of the ribbons. As this was done, the singing continued, and then, as each of the family groups were gathered around each of the tombstones, the opportunity came for them to read out the names of the children and mention their sunrise, which is the day of their birth, and their sunset, which was 19 December 2014.

I want to read into the record the eight names of the children who were lost. At this stage I apologise for any of my pronunciation, because the names themselves are beautiful names that reflect Torres Strait Islander culture. They are: Malili Lydianna Margarita Emmakai Glorianna Warria, Vita Angelina Glorrianna Wazanna Thaiday, Shantae Jolee Majota Warria, La'Torrence Rayden Simeon James Warria, Azariah Ellison Reuben Willie, Daniel Stanley Willie, Rodney Jackson Deandre Willie, and Patrenella Frances Katalia Willie.

The family were gathered around the beautiful tombstones of each of those children, which encouraged their names, biblical text for each of the children and photographs of them. The photographs were also given to us on the order of service that each of the people who attended were able to see: the beautiful children and the memories of their lives in family groups and also laughing together. So many of the photographs that we had of the children to remember them by were their school photos.

On the day of the ceremony last Saturday so many young children were there together, taking part in the ceremony which, at the graveside, was concluded with a magnificent performance of wonderful Torres Strait Islander dance. As many people here would know, that thrusting thump of Torres Strait Islander drums causes people to move. Among the hundreds of people who had gathered to share in the ceremony you could feel the pleasure and the pain of the drums beating out as the memory of these children was shared by all.

At that stage, the message to all of us was that our grief was real: the grief of the Cairns community, the community shared across the Torres Strait and also so many other people who learned of this tragedy at the time and felt they needed to be part of it because the shock was so great. They are now in the position of moving from mourning into remembrance-moving into the joy of remembering the innocence and excitement of so many young lives. That was translated to all of us by the music and then, as we left the cemetery, by the knowledge that we were going back to the large feast and celebration which was the second part of the activities. It was a cultural feast for family members and the extended community held at the Cairns Showgrounds in the evening.

My understanding is that the dancing, singing and joy continued into the evening so that the spirits of each of those young people whose lives were lost so tragically four years ago are still with us. They are with us beyond the sunset and they will continue to live with us as we remember them and, particularly, hope that such a tragedy will never happen again in our community.