When Torres Strait Islander Jeremy Marou returned to the Torres Strait for the first time in over a decade to work on his new album, he didn't expect it would lead him to becoming an advocate for battling the impacts of climate change for the region.
After visiting Masig last month, Mr Marou said: “I’ve seen it in real life and reckon that anyone who questions that climate change is real must be delusional. The situation is pretty dire.”
“It’s not just an Australian issue, it’s a world issue, and the fact that we’re already hearing terms like Torres Strait Islanders becoming the world’s first climate change refugees is an indication of how serious it is.”
Mr Marou, from the musical duo Busby and Marou, returned to his ancestral home on Mer in June this year to record sections of their song Naba Norem, which means 'let’s go to the reef.'
The song is based on his father leaving the Torres Strait to build a better life on the mainland, and now Mr Marou is now returning from the mainland to the islands to help protect the traditional way of life he sees is at risk from climate change.
Mr Marou attended the Climate Reality Project in Brisbane with Al Gore a month before his June visit to Mer.
Until then while Marou was aware of climate change, but said after visiting Mer: “It wasn't until I started listening to some of the stories that it really hit home."
The following month Marou was appointed as a climate change consultation facilitator for the Queensland State Government’s “Decarbonisation Project.”
In that role, Mr Marou visited Masig in September, and will be visiting Palm Island and Magnetic Island in December.
“I was always aware that climate change was around but to see the extent it’s affecting the Torres Strait Islands was a real eye opener, and then to know Masig is not the worst affected,” he said.
“What I find frustrating about the whole matter is that these islands are losing their homes, their burial sites, their livelihoods, yet people in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane would not have a clue.”
He said he found the sense of immediacy of climate change and how it is already occurring in the at risk communities of the Torres Strait the most confronting.
“The sad thing was I was up there with the State and Federal Government agencies and I said I was happy to come up with them, but as a Torres Strait Islander and not as a bureaucrat.
“We know our island better than anybody, there’s no engineer that can come up and say this is where you need to put a sandbag - people know their island.
“We know how to look after our habitat.
“An old guy up there summed it up in a quick sentence, why don’t you just drop an excavator of with some geotextile sand bags and we will fix the island up ourselves. We know what the tides are doing, which way the currents run.”
Mr Marou said accessing and utilising traditional knowledge of country to mitigate the impacts of climate change, was a “no brainer, but in the eyes of mainstream people Indigenous people are not seen as the experts, and unless we are it’s never going to happen.”
However Mr Marou was critical of government's record of consulting Traditional Owners.
“Yeah they'll say, we’ve talked to the blackfellas, but it’s 100 percent tokenism,” he said.
He believes things will not improve; “unless at some stage of the process we are seen as experts, and not just ticking the boxes.”
“There was one Elder on Masig who said this to me; 'Watching the beach wash away and watching the island wash away is like a part of me washing away and it’s affecting my mental and physical health.'”
The fact that Busby and Morou were in the Torres Strait as they were working on the track Naba Norem when his interest climate change advocacy work began is something Mr Morou sees as serendipitous.
“When we went out to write the album we didn’t think we would have a song that would have the level of connection that it does,” he said.
“It’s kind of like it was meant to be and Tom and I feel like it's time for us to use our profile to get these stories of how our islands are going under water to people down in the cities and the bubble of CBDs actually see what's going on in the rest of the country – we feel like it’s our time to step up and make people aware and to lobby.”