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Sharks on a plane: The story of Baydham

Artwork designed by Badu Island artist Michael Nona is now flying high on the Cairns-based Challenger aircraft.

Mr Nona was selected by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) to design the artwork following a search undertaken for AMSA by the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) last year. Read more here.

About the Artist

Torres Strait artist Michael Nona’s passion for art, began during his childhood in the remote island community of Badu, approximately 850km north of Cairns, Queensland.

He was inspired by nature, the sea life around his island and the stories of his Aka (grandmother) about Ailan Kastom (island custom).

Now a full-time fly-in, fly-out worker in Central Queensland and father of 2, he hopes his design inspires future generations to practice and promote Torres Strait art and culture.

The AMSA Cairns-based Challenger aircraft is Michael’s first large-scale commercial artwork.

His works, including wood and pearl carvings and relief prints, have been exhibited at Queensland’s KickArts Gallery and the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair, and are held in numerous collections.

The Artwork story: Baydham

The eye-catching black and white design features a shark, known as Baydham in the Mabuiag dialect of the Kala Lagaw Ya language.

Known as the protector of the reef, sharks are an important symbol in the Torres Strait region and play a role in maintaining a balance in the seas.

The Zugubaw Baydham, or the shark star constellation, is used as a traditional form, indicating seasonal changes and navigating the seas.

From notebook to aircraft

Michael sketched the design over a couple of weeks, bedside while his partner was in labour with twins, using just a pen and a small pocket notebook.

He took a photo of the completed drawing with his phone and attached it to his submission.

Once selected, this photo was used to digitise and magnify the hand-drawn sketch to the 2.80m x 2.84m design proudly displayed on the AMSA aircraft.

Digitising hundreds of intricate lines and intricate details took around 45hrs hours; with a further 2 days to apply the design to the aircraft in a hangar.

The sketch is inspired by the lino cut technique, and the distinct, detailed, black and white print it produces. This popular style used across the region is influenced by Torres Strait artists, who incorporate and transform elements of traditional carving practices from pre-European contact to modern times.

About the Torres Strait

The Torres Strait includes 18 inhabited islands and the Northern Peninsula Area communities of Bamaga and Seisia. The region spans 48,000 square kilometres from the tip of Cape York north towards the Papua New Guinea border.

Just like their culture and traditions, Torres Strait Islander art is diverse, but stylistically distinct to the region and its people.

The artist’s home of Badu Island is known for strong cultural, linguistic and creative practices, with many Badu artworks showcased and exhibited domestically and internationally.

Badu Island has numerous celebrated artists such as one of Michael’s major influences: Dennis Nona, Laurie Nona, Alick Tipoti, Matilda Nona, Joseph Au, Sarah Gaidan, Aiona Gaidan and Lara Fuji to name a few.

Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal people are advised this website may contain names, images and recordings of people who have passed.