Cairns born, Mayella Dewis has Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, Malay, Dutch-Indonesian and German cultural roots. Her dream is to be an accomplished musician and her passion is music. Consequently, she has focused on becoming not only a multi-instrumentalist but also a songwriter and singer.
She considers her music as a tool to inspire and motivate aspiring musicians of all cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. With the Reggae and R&B band Funk Empire, she has presented workshops to youth groups in particular, mentoring them in drumming, guitar, lighting design and audio engineering.
She is a firm believer in using her past and present experiences to propel her towards future musical endeavours. For Mayella Dewis: “music is the rhythm to my life’s melody. They complete each other”.
The Torres Strait
The Torres Strait region lies between Queensland in Australia and Western Province in Papua New Guinea. Named after the Spanish navigator Luis Vaez de Torres who explored it in 1605, its many islands have different origins. Some are coral cayes, some remnants of volcanos, some formed by silt deposits from rivers in Papua New Guinea and some are hill tops from the now submerged land bridge that once connected Australia and New Guinea. There are countless reefs, channels and currents. Its land and sea environments are complex and its people have exploited marine resources in particular for millennia.
It was marine resources such as beche-de-mer, turtle shell and pearl shell that brought about increasing contact from the mid-1800s with European colonisers and a multinational workforce that gathered, processed and marketed marine resources nationally and internationally. Indigenous and migrant workers came from many places. Over the decades the workforces included Torres Strait Islanders from local communities, Aborigines from the Australian mainland, South Sea Islanders from across Oceania, Malays from the Dutch East Indies, Filipinos, Papuans and Japanese; as well as traders and business people from Asia, Australia and Europe. It was truly a multicultural community and consequently elements of all have contributed to what is known today as Torres Strait Islander culture.
In 1872 the colony of Queensland annexed the region’s islands within sixty miles of Cape York Peninsula and in 1879 most other islands were annexed. With Federation in 1901, the region became part of Australia, although the final border between Australia and Papua New Guinea was not determined until 1978. Similar to elsewhere in Australia from the late 1900s, for generations Indigenous people in the region were subject to race-based laws restricting their activities and controlling many facets of their personal lives.
Presently, there are twenty-three Indigenous communities in the Torres Strait region: eighteen in Torres Strait and five in the Northern Peninsula Area. They range in size from large communities – such as Thursday Island, Bamaga and Badu – to tiny island communities with only hundreds of residents. Indigenous communities are all deeply connected to the natural environment, something reflected in their music, dances and legends. Presently approximately two-thirds of Torres Strait live on the Australian mainland yet maintain strong connection to the region.