Milton Savage, Chair of the Kaurareg Native Title Aboriginal Corporation, standing on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait, northern Australia.

The 'forgotten people': When death came to the Torres Strait

Updated 9:39 PM ET, Fri May 25, 2018

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Thursday Island, Australia (CNN)Milton Savage sits on the porch of his cement board house on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait, about 40 kilometers (24 miles) north of Australia's northern tip.

Shaded by a lush tropical garden, Savage is stripped to the waist in a pair of footy shorts. He sips green tea and puffs on a cigarette while two old dogs lie on his feet wheezing in the monsoonal heat.
Savage is the Chair of the Kaurareg Native Title Aboriginal Corporation, the government-backed organization that lobbies for his people's land rights, but he also has tribal bloodlines that tie him to all the clans of Cape York, in northern Queensland.
"I'm Kaurareg, I'm Italaig, Gudang Yadhaikana, Gomukudin, Kawaig man, that's my people's tribes," Savage says, as steam rises from the nearby papaya and banana trees between monsoonal downpours.
Milton Savage at a cultural event on Thursday Island, explaining the fate of his people.
Savage's ancestors, the Kaurareg people, were well-established on the islands of the Torres Strait prior to European settlement but were nearly wiped out in a series of massacres that started in 1869. By the time they were marched off their traditional lands at gunpoint in 1922, only 80 people were left, including Savage's maternal grandparents.
The massacres were part of Australia's Frontier Wars, a series of bloody confrontations between European settlers and the country's Indigenous population, that started soon after the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay, south of Sydney, in 1788 and continued for almost 150 years.
    "The Kaurareg are simply one of many displaced Indigenous groups in Australia," said Professor Lyndall Ryan from the University of Newcastle, who has spent decades compiling stories handed down through generations. "The great tragedy is that Milton's story is replicated across Australia."
    Saturday in Australia is National Sorry Day, the 20th time the annual event has been held, recognizing the mistreatment of the country's Indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and remembering members of the Stolen Generations, the Indigenous children forcibly taken from their families under a government policy of assimilation.
    Despite the promises of successive governments, little progress has been made in improving the quality of life for Australia's Indigenous people, who make up 2.4% of the country's population of 24 million people.