Angela Torenbeek has spent most of her life working as an artist specialising in coconut baskets, wooden sculpture, Pandanus and Ramandra grass weavings (a technique taught by the women of Hopevale who use this grass for the dilly bags in which they wash Yams), all the while holding down jobs as a teacher’s aide and working in child safety care and domestic violence prevention with HACC.
Angela’s grandfather was ‘blackbirded’ by William Hayes c.1860, effectively kidnapped from the island of Niue to work in the sugar cane fields of Cairns. From Cairns, her grandfather escaped to Erub (Darnley) then to Badu, finally to settle in the village of Poid which preceded the modern-day community of Kubin on the western side of the island of Moa. Angela’s father was born in that community (Poid) but was forcibly re-located by the Government to the community of St. Paul’s (as it was government policy to locate all non Mualgal/Kurareg on Moa to that community at the time) and that is where Angela was born.
My childhood was tough but fun. We had our baths in the creek, we had no fridge, hot water or electricity. We fished for food and grew our own vegetables hauling water for the gardens.
I was 14 before I ventured beyond our community, a trip to Thursday Island with our choir. My mum had to cut my hair because I hadn’t brushed it for ages. I thought T.I was deadly because I saw 4 or 5 cars and a couple of taxis. It was the first time I had seen shops but I didn’t like ice cream because it was too cold.
My mum used to weave, to maintain the houses which were made form woven coconut. I learned by watching, sitting next to her. When we had sports at school we had to weave baskets for fishing too.
I often see turtles in trawler nets when I go fishing in my dinghy. These are big turtles, not little ones. They need to come up for air by when they get caught in the big fishing nets they can drown. I’ve also seen sharks tangled in what we call ‘ghost netting’. We make something good out of something bad by creating art out of ghost netting.