"It should mandatory from primary school on wards [to learn] about how this country was 'born', and it's not just about the Brits coming here and establishing a colony." - Waskam Emelda Davis
Like much of Australia's history, Blackbirding is conveniently left out of the curriculum for many students and as Waskam Emelda Davis demands, this must change. To pave a better future, there must be truth-telling and real listening, so that the fullness of the past is shared - no matter how uncomfortable that may be.
From 1864 through to 1904, over 60,000 Pacific Islanders worked on Queensland plantations and stations. They came from 80 Pacific islands, including most of modern-day Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tuvalu and Kiribati. If not stolen from their island beaches, they were often coerced and tricked in to an indentured labour relationship under false ideals.
When arriving to Australia, they were underpaid, controlled by their 'bosses' (masters) and lived and worked in harsh conditions - most never returning to their homelands. Much of the early sugar plantation industry relied on the labour of South Sea Islanders. This indentured labour force (aka slave trade) built a lucrative agriculture economy in this country - to no benefit of their own. This trade became known as ‘blackbirding’.
The 25th August is Australian South Sea Islander Recognition Day.
"Australian South Sea Islanders are a displaced Pacific community as a result of Australia’s first Seasonal Workers Scheme. Historically named the ‘Indentured labour trade’ The Australian South Sea Islander communities identify strongly with the truth of the matter that this was a Blackbird trade of the Pacific." Waskam Emelda Davis for Australian Museums.
Below are a collection of resources to begin learning about Blackbirding in Australia, its impact and the powerful stories of survival of the Australian South Sea Islander (ASSI) community.
By no means is this an exhaustive list of resources, just a place to start. Share your resources in the comments below.
Australian South Sea Islander Flag
The Australian South Sea Islander flag was designed in consultation with the ASSI community and executive of the then Australian South Sea Islanders United Council (ASSIUC) in 1994.
Australian South Sea Islander Recognition Day
written by Waskam Emelda Davis for the Australian Museum
ABC Radio Sydney
The national body representing Australian South Sea Islanders,
established by a group of first descendants at Tweed Heads in 1975.
Will Higginbotham for the ABC
Stephen Gapps for the Australian National Maritime Museum
Streets of your Town