Powerful documentary tells story of slavery and kidnapping in Australia’s dark past

‘Dark Cargoes’ explores the personal stories of South Sea Islanders and the Queensland sugar industry.
Dark-Cargoes DVD
Dark-Cargoes DVD
PRLog (Press Release) – Mar. 16, 2013 – HERVEY BAY, Australia — A television documentary on the history of the South Sea Islander labour trade has been completed by Hervey Bay production company Greenapple Media and is now available for the first time on DVD. Writer and director Dr Tony Matthews said that the film was made as a tribute to those men, women and children who were brought to Australia’s shores – often against their will – to work in the sugarcane fields. ‘South Sea Islanders were the very backbone of the sugar industry as white labour during the 1870s and 1880s was too expensive to make sugar production a viable proposition.’ Dr Matthews said.

South Sea Islanders or ‘Kanakas’ as they were then known, were first brought to Queensland to work in the cotton industry but the workers proved so effective and valuable that they were almost immediately utilised in what were then fledgling sugarcane-growing enterprises all along the coastal fringes of the colony. Sugar was then a new industry; plantation owners were struggling but sugar was profitable if the cane could be grown inexpensively. Sugar mills were springing up in a variety of centres: Brisbane, Nambour, Tiaro, Maryborough, Bundaberg, Mackay and in many other towns and villages as the demand for sugar grew. However, there was a dark element to the industry and this was associated with the methods of recruiting being carried out by some ship’s captains.

‘Labour vessels were a common sight in places such as Mackay, Bundaberg, Maryborough and Brisbane,’ Dr Matthews said. ‘However, there were certain skippers who were completely unscrupulous when it came to the methods they used of enticing recruits aboard their ships.’

The kidnapping of labourers was fairly common, and once landed in Queensland the labourers had little or no option but to accept the terms of indenture being offered by the various plantation owners. The system of recruiting and conditions on the various plantations was sometimes compared to the methods being used in the southern slaving states of America before the Civil War of the 1860s. Some ship’s captains and plantation owners were fair and humane when dealing with the islanders but others were not. Conditions on board the ships and also on the plantations varied considerably; on some of the recruiting vessels the islanders were kept locked in pestilent holds for the duration of the voyages and when landed in the colony conditions on some of the plantations were hardly better. Accommodation was generally simple grass huts with no clean water, and food rations could often be appalling in both quality and quantity.

DVDs of the full one hour documentary are now available from the producers, Greenapple Media.

A brief video trailer may be seen at:


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