The Torres Strait Treaty

Signing the agreement
Signing of the Torres Strait Treaty, PNG House, Sydney, 1979. From left: Joh Bjelke-Petersen (Premier of Queensland), Andrew Peacock (Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia), Malcolm Fraser (Prime Minister, Australia), Michael Somare (Prime Minister, Papua New Guinea) and N Ebia Olewale (Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Papua New Guinea). (NAA: A6180, 8/1/79/28)

Emeritus Professor Donald Denoon

The fourth RG Neale Lecture was delivered by Emeritus Professor Donald Denoon of the Australian National University on the 1978 Torres Strait Treaty.

The lecture was given at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra on 5 November 2009, before an audience including academics, members of Professor Neale’s family, and former and current Department of Foreign Affairs officials.

The Torres Strait Treaty is an agreement between Australia and Papua New Guinea that describes the boundaries between the two countries and how the sea area may be used. There are two main boundaries – the Seabed Jurisdiction Line and the Fisheries Jurisdiction Line – as well as a Protected Zone. The Treaty takes account of traditional activities (including sea and land use, trade, ceremonies and social gatherings) of the indigenous residents of the Torres Strait area.

Professor Denoon’s presentation discussed how the national governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea, the Queensland state government and Torres Strait Island representatives negotiated a successful and durable Torres Strait Treaty. The Treaty was signed in December 1978, three years after Papua New Guinea attained independence.


The National Archives holds a range of records about the Torres Strait Treaty. Records of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Attorney-General’s Department, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs document the negotiation of the treaty. Digital copies of some of these records are available for viewing through the Archives’ collection database, RecordSearch. For further information about records relating to the 1978 Torres Strait Treaty, see Fact Sheet – Torres Strait Treaty, 1978.

Donald Denoon biographical note

Photograph of Donald Denoon

Donald Denoon was educated in South Africa and Cambridge. From 1966 to 1972 he was Lecturer in History at Makerere University, Uganda, and from 1972 to 1981 was Professor of History at the University of Papua New Guinea. Professor Denoon became Professor of Pacific History at the Australian National University in 1990, and is currently Emeritus Professor and Visiting Fellow at the Division of Pacific and Asian History, the Australian National University.

Professor Denoon was general editor of the Cambridge History of the Pacific Islanders (Cambridge University Press, 1997). He has written extensively on Australia’s relations with Pacific countries as well as on Papua New Guinea. His publications include Getting Under the Skin: The Bougainville Copper Agreement and the Creation of the Panguna Mine (with Philippa Mein-Smith and Marivic Wyndham; Melbourne University Press, 2000), A History of Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific (Blackwell, 2000), and Public Health in Papua New Guinea: Medical Possibility and Social Constraint, 1884–1984 (with Kathleen Dugan and Leslie Marshall; Cambridge University Press, 1989).

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2018