Will Kepa is a Torres Strait Islander multi-instrumentalist, audio engineer and producer based in Cairns, Queensland.
After learning to play the guitar in 1998, he enrolled in the Indigenous Music Program at the Tropical North Queensland TAFE in 2000. Graduating with a Diploma in Music, he has become a much sought after musician (drums, bass, guitar and ukulele) and song and vocal arranger.
His professional career also involves audio engineering and he has worked at major national festivals as well as at numerous regional and local festivals. He has produced and performed with a wide range of artists and groups live and in the studio, including a major cultural project recording and filming Torres Strait Islander music and dance in remote communities.
For Will Kepa, music is a passion and a profession he loves.
Iama (Yam Island)
Iama (Yam Island) is located in the Central Islands cluster of the Torres Strait region about one hundred kilometres northeast of Thursday Island. It is approximately two square kilometres in size and is hilly. However, it also has low-lying areas along the shore and consequently is susceptible to flooding at high tides.
Historically, Iama (Turtleback Island) and the nearby island of Tudu (Warrior Island) were important pre-colonial centres for trade and their large sailing canoes travelled widely for inter-island trading between Australia and New Guinea. Its warriors were also noted for their fighting prowess by colonial explorers such as William Bligh.
With the arrival of Christianity in the Torres Strait region in 1871, the London Missionary Society established a mission at Iama and a more permanent settlement grew up around it aided by IAma’s more fertile soil and more dependable water supply found at Tudu. During the colonial and early federation eras, many Iama men worked in maritime industries such as beche-de-mer and pearl shell harvesting while the women usually remained on the island raising families and harvesting food and materials from the land and sea.
In 1912 Queensland gazetted Iama as an Aboriginal Reserve and after 1918 its people were placed under the jurisdiction of a Protector of Aborigines based at Thursday Island. Throughout the region, Indigenous peoples were restricted mostly to their home islands and did not have control over many aspects of their personal lives, including personal finances, marriage arrangements and even evening curfews. If deemed to be ‘troublemakers’, they could also be removed from their home islands to missions and reserves on the Australian mainland at the whim of the government authorities.
During World War Two, many men from Iama and other communities enlisted in the Torres Strait Light Infantry. Although they were initially paid only one-third of the wages of Australian servicemen, they objected and eventually wages were raised to two-thirds of the normal rate. It was only in the 1980s that Torres Strait Islander veterans received full compensation for their wartime services to their country.
With a current population of approximately 350 people, Iama is an active community serviced by a school, health centre, stores, Christian denominations and government offices.