Blackbirding: Australian South Sea Islanders

Most Australians know about the history of our country. Most people have their own opinion of this history. It’s been discussed, retold and taught in schools for decades. But do we all know everything? I was at least 16 before I knew about the Pacific Islanders (see: South Sea Islanders) that were brought to far north Queensland as labourers in the 1800s and I didn’t find out about them in school. Since then I’ve learnt that this was called ‘Blackbirding’. The online Collins dictionary, gives the definition of a Blackbirder, as ‘(noun) a person or vessel carrying out blackbirding, which is the catching of slaves’.

The generations descended from these South Sea Islanders now make up Australia’s largest non-Indigenous black ethnic group. This year the Australian South Sea Islander Association commemorates 150 years in Australia with events that started in June and continue to the end of September, in Queensland.  As a result of this anniversary, the Prime Minister of Vanuatu has called for Australia to apologise for Blackbirding and the VETE Indigenous and Historical Association have released a signed solemn declaration, giving that they are aware of over 40,000 people from Vanuatu who were ‘kidnapped and treated as commodities… forced to work as slaves’ between 1847 and 1906.

The video above brings to light a lot of this history through Rugby League great Mal Meninga. Perhaps people don’t know that Meninga is of Solomon and Vanuatu heritage? Well he is. He is a direct result of the Blackbirding trade. His ancestors were brought from Malaita, in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. In the video he talks about his knowledge of his Pacific Island ancestry and how important it is for people to know about the Blackbirding trade that happened in Australia, and still occurs in other parts of the world today.

If you would like more information about the events in Queensland, you can find it here.

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