Thursday Island, once a colonial outpost and considered a frontier of Australian expansion and resource exploitation, has regressed to the status of a remote indigenous town. Its primary role as main administrative centre for the Torres Strait Islands has been to provide these peoples with a gateway to the wider Australian society. As such, it experiences a wide range of constraints and problems related to the fact that it is a small, remote island serving itself and a variety of other islands, scattered over a large marine space, that are inhabited by the Torres Strait Island peoples, who have just recently emerged from a long administrative history of internal colonialism culminating in a society dependent on welfare and an economy reliant on public funding. This thesis identifies and investigates the factors contributing to, and the severity of, these constraints and problems. In order to determine the effectiveness of Thursday Island as an urban centre this assessment is based upon a series of criteria: the perspectives of the researcher, the Torres Strait Island peoples, other interest groups, the government sector and conventional Australian standards.
Political, administrative, economic and social change in the Torres Strait required the study to incorporate the effect of external factors and their complex interplay with the internal dynamics of Thursday Island. This Island was generally considered a deteriorating urban centre experiencing severe problems, lacking a community identity and containing a highly transient population. This study finds, instead, that in the context of the larger encompassing regional changes the status and identity of Thursday Island are also changing. Once a narrowly prescribed administrative and service centre considered to be non-Islander and thus not accepted as part of Torres Strait Islander society, it now has an intricate role in all aspects of that society. The stigmas associated with being the "European" island are breaking down as a large Islander community identifies Thursday Island as home and Islanders, as a whole, utilise it as the point of articulation between themselves and the dominant society.
Change has had negative and positive implications on Thursday Island and in the Torres Strait. While some problems are being addressed and others are in a state of flux, some others continue or are exacerbated by the large increase in the public sector required by both levels of government to bring about changes related to putative self-management but consequently compounding an already complicated and extraordinary administrative set-up. These factors, while contributing to political instability, were found to reinforce Thursday Island's emerging role as the centre for liaison and negotiation between Islander and European societies. However, this study also discovers that change and political instability resulted in a realignment of political and racial relationships on this Island, creating factionalism and manifesting itself in social problems. The internal factionalism and the continuing gaps in infrastructure and services hinders Thursday Island not only from being an effective urban centre but also from assuming its new role as the needed political, administrative and economic pivot in the region. Nevertheless, the level of change and problem solving on the Island, the increasing identification of it as "Islander", the emergence of a stable community structure of Islanders, "half-castes" and long term Europeans and Asians and its small core of residents committed to change will assist Thursday Island to become an integral part of the Torres Strait, contributing to the necessary level of unification required to achieve Islander goals of functional self-management and regional autonomy. In turn, the achievement of such goals will require administrative restructuring by local, state and federal authorities, who will have to recognise the role of Thursday Island within the Torres Strait Islander economy, polity and society, if any significant restructuring is to be successful.