Now 83 years old Albert ‘Boyo’ Ware began his career as a trochus diver deckhand at the age of fifteen. He is now one of just a handful of Torres Strait and Aboriginal survivors of the trochus and pearl shell industry that dominated the farm northern Australian economy in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Initially working trochus from small boats with a crew of four Albert eventually progressed to diving for pearl shell from larger lugger boats after the bottom fell out of the trochus market.
Albert still calls St Pauls on Moa Island in the Torres Strait ‘home ‘ despite his post seafaring exploits as a Cape York stockman and stints working on the railways and roads of far north Queensland.
A prolific story teller, Albert can bend your ears for hours with great humour and enthusiasm. One highlight of our conversations was this tale of the time he rode a whale. Diving for pearl shell at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef near Gladstone they came across a twelve metre hump back whale stranded in a lagoon. The whale has doing circles around the lagoon so Albert and his mate jumped in, hung onto the whale tail and went for a spin. (The whale was fine and escaped to freedom when the tide rose.)
I met Albert at the opening of “Lugger Bort” … a Cairns Indigenous Art Fair event at The Tanks Arts Centre in Cairns. The brilliant exhibition curated by Nerelle Nicol focuses on “the working life of the Aboriginal, Torres Strait and South Sea Islanders who worked the pearling, Beche-de-mer and trochus industries living on luggers in Far North Queensland” was a ‘must see’ but sadly ended yesterday, Sunday.
A pleasure to listen to Albert tell his stories and to make his portrait … and … as he told me … “The journey is still on”.
Image © Brian Cassey