We all know plenty about Sicily, Crete and Cuba, but what about those tiny little patches of land in Earth’s vast oceans? Here’s a few interesting facts about three
islands you may only know very little about…
Thursday Island (Waiben)
Waiben is the local Melanesian name for this island located just North of the Cape York Peninsula in Queensland, Australia. Home to a Melanesian population for thousands of years, the island is believed to have been first discovered by Captain William Bligh after being set afloat from the mutiny of the Bounty. A government outpost was set up by the British colonial government in 1877. In the 1880s it became a huge site for pearl diving, particularly popular with the Japanese and today there remain large gravesites on the islands for Japanese pearl divers. A fort was built in 1892 to protect the island from Russian occupation after worsening Anglo-Russian relations; however it has been out of use since 1927. During World War II it became the main government site for the entire group of islands in the area known as the Torres Strait Islands and it was spared from Japanese bombing due to Japanese concerns about pearl divers on the island. It became a subject of a territorial dispute with Papua New Guinea in the 1960s, due to the Melanesian population, but the decision was ruled in favour of Australia. Today it represents one of the challenges the Australian government faces regarding indigenous peoples.
South Sandwich Islands
We all know about the controversies surrounding the Falkland War, but the South Sandwich Islands were a site of British-Argentine tension long before the Falkland Islands. Located east of the Southern coast of Argentina, James Cook discovered these islands in 1775 who named them “Sandwich Land” in honour of the 4th Earl of Sandwich. They were formally annexed by the UK in 1908, however Argentina laid claim to the islands in 1938. They challenged British sovereignty on the islands numerous times, including maintaining a naval base on the southeastern coast of Thule Island from 1976 to 1982, after a brief stint in the same locale with a summer station in the mid-1950s. Efforts were made by the British to resolve the situation via diplomatic means, however it was unsuccessful and the issue was dissolved into the Falklands War in 1982. Today, they remain a British overseas territory which Argentina still lays claim to.
Perhaps the least known of this bunch, these two islands could have been the site of some particularly heavy nuclear bombing had the USSR not collapsed. They are located in the Bering Strait which separates Russia and Alaska. The islands are responsible for marking the boundary between Russia and the USA – the 1867 purchase of Alaska from the Russian Empire by the United States uses these islands as territorial markers. Big Diomede is still part of Russian territory and was once occupied by people, but during World War II the Soviet government relocated the entire population to the mainland in order to use the island as a military base. Little Diomede remains part of the USA and is home to a small Inuit population of 170 people. Though due to weather conditions the residents of Little Diomede are poorly connected to the mainland, a small Russian military presence on Big Diomede (only 2.5 miles away) might just be the last remnant of the Cold War.