Australian South Sea Islanders(Kanakas) News Digest#1

1) New questions over loss of ‘Blackbirding’ family compensation


Updated 7 August 2013, 11:04 AEST

A Queensland history professor says that the Queensland Government owes the families of blackbirded Pacific Islanders who died on sugarcane farms more than a century ago about $38 million.

This month marks 150 years since the Pacific Island Labour Trade began and Professor Clive Moore’s research reveals that much of what was called the Pacific Islanders Trust Fund was misappropriated.

Presenter: Sean Dorney

Speaker: Professor Clive Moore, University of Queensland; Nasuven Enares, Australian South Sea Islanders Secretariat

DORNEY: About 50,000 Pacific Islanders were brought to the Australian east coast over a 41 year period to work mostly on sugar plantations. Professor Clive Moore from the University of Queensland says the death toll was extraordinary.

MOORE: Overall in the labour trade between 1863 and 1904 about 15,000 Pacific Islanders died in Queensland.

DORNEY: Professor Moore says their wages were held in bank accounts and that only 15% of that money went back their families.

MOORE: Something like 35,000 pounds was misappropriated by the Queensland Government with no attempt to pay it back to the families in the islands. When you turn that money into dollars today you’re talking about something like 35 million or 38 million Australian dollars today. That’s undoubted. And I’m being conservative. If you look at other aspects of the finances as they were used by the Government the figure could be as high as 100 million Australian dollars. It’s just an extremely difficult calculation because it’s a rolling amount of money. Every year you would have to recalculate inflation and the compound interest rates on the money. But the whole process even if a government, the Queensland Government can argue it was a legitimate process. It was legal under the law. It was totally immoral. To use the wages of deceased islanders who were dying at a rate that was astoundingly high. No other immigrant group in Australia has ever died at that rate. 15,000 people in something like 50,000 individuals died. It was a horrific death rate. They knew, in fact the trade should have been closed down because of the health problems that existed. They should never have kept it going for 40 years. They did and they knew they were profiting from that and profiting very substantially.

DORNEY: Some of the descendants of the Kanaka cane labourers are not surprised. Nasuven Enares has established the Australian South Sea Islanders Secretariat and she’s organising a re-enactment next week here in Brisbane of the first ship that brought the blackbirded workers to Queensland.

ENARES: They built the sugarcane industry! They should have been paid everything that they were owed. And it doesn’t surprise me at all that this amount of money is, is still with the Government today. You can’t say it’s not there. It’s there because the Queensland Government still exists and therefore this money is still owing to the islanders.

DORNEY: Professor Moore says the money was used instead to subsidise the oversight of the blackbirding trade with the Queensland Government at the time admitting that the system could not have run financially without the use of those deceased estates. And he says the Australian Government played its part.

MOORE: Well, it involves the Commonwealth Government as well because what happened in the end In the 1900’s when the Australian Government legislated for the deportation of Pacific Islanders they then scratched their heads and said we’re not going to pay for this. Who’s going to pay? And they talked the Queensland Government to pay for it out of the Pacific Islanders Trust Fund. So that Trust Fund starts off as a British Colonial Trust Fund and then, once Federation comes along it is actually an Australian Government Trust Fund so the Australian Government is implicated in the misappropriation and misuse of that money as well.

DORNEY: Nasuven Enares said the Queensland and Australian Governments should right the wrong this month.

ENARES: This is 150 years since this happened, Sean, and it is the right time to raise this particular sad part, this unfortunate part of this Blackbirding era.

DORNEY: She is also calling on the Prime Ministers of Vanuatu and Solomon Islands to work with Australian South Sea Islanders on a submission about appropriate compensation. This has been Sean Dorney for Pacific Beat.

Emelda Davis – President, Interim National Body for Australian South Sea Islanders.
(Port Jackson) Ltd – branch

2) watch NITV News Story on South Sea Islanders seek stolen wages

click on link to view:

South Sea Islanders seek stolen wages

Published – 7 August 2013 Expires in 7 Days

As South Sea Islanders prepare to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the black-birding trade against the Pacific Islands, a Queensland historian says the Islanders may have their own stolen-wages case similar to Murri Queenslanders’. There have also been calls for the Australian Parliament to issue a formal apology.

Emelda Davis – President, Interim National Body for Australian South Sea Islanders.
(Port Jackson) Ltd – branch

3) MEDIA RELEASE – Shameful New South Wales Blackbirding History Debated in New South Wales Parliament House

Media Release

Alex Greenwich Calls on Government for Formal Statement of Recognition of ASSI Human Rights Violation and Plan of Remedial Action to Remove Disadvantage to Descendants

15 August 2013

The case for formal recognition of New South Wales’ shameful indentured colonial history that saw thousands of South Sea Islanders (SSI) Blackbirded, will be debated in the NSW Parliament House on 15th August 2013 at 9:30. Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich will be presenting the bill for this debate. The people were often forcibly recruited in slave like conditions for work in the state’s plantations and rural economies.

President of the Australian South Sea Islanders interim national body (ASSI.PJ) Emelda Davis comments: ‘This is an historic day for not only all the thousands of decedents of the original SSI’s that arrived in New South Wales but for the whole ASSI people in Australia, including the many thousands whose families were contracted to work on the sugar plantations and properties in Queensland under slave like conditions. Significantly the debate comes in the 150th year after the first Islanders arrived on Queensland shores.”

Ms. Davis continues: “We will be welcoming all ASSI people and supporters to attend this important moment in our history.” Ms. Davis’ grandfather was bought to Australia at the age of 12 years old from the Island of Tanna in Vanuatu.

The taking of South Sea Islanders started earlier in New South Wales. In 1847 Ben Boyd, a rich entrepreneur, decided to experiment with bringing in a Pacific Islander workforce, without waiting for government permission.  He brought the first 65 Islanders to Australia from Lifu in the Loyalty Islands (now part of New Caledonia) and from Tanna and Aneityum in the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) to Eden on the NSW south coast.

They were taken to work on his pastoral properties. They had all put their mark on contracts that bound them to work for five years and to be paid 26 shillings a year, plus rations of 10 lbs of meat a week, and two pairs of trousers, two shirts and a cap.

The 25 August 2013 is Australian South Sea Islander Recognition Day, marking 150 years since about 50,000 people on 62,000 indenture contracts from around 80 Pacific Islands were kidnapped or recruited to work in sugar cane fields where they were exploited.

During this time Australian South Sea Islanders suffered inhumane treatment, the highest mortality rates of any immigrant group to Australia, and mass deportations when the White Australia Policy was introduced.

Today, many of the 40,000 Australian South Sea Islander descendants who live in Australia remain marginalised and disadvantaged, but thought thousands of Australian South Sea Islanders live in New South Wales, an official number has not been established but is estimated at 8,000 descendants throughout NSW. The 2011 Census shows 33,000 Pacific Island migrants are based in Sydney alone.

Ms Davis says “From a political perspective our reconnection with our Pacific Island culture and families can start right here in Australia but we require the means to do this through meaningful government programs and services produced in consultation with a national representative voice for our communities.”

The current debate responds to the Memorandum of Understanding of 1995 of the then NSW Premier, Hon. Bob Carr which called for the implementation of adequate programs and services for ASSI, but which unfortunately failed to deliver any benefits to South Sea Islander descendants.

Ms. Davis said that “Mr Greenwich will call on the Government to work with the ASSI national representative body to prepare a demographic, social and economic community profile, make a formal statement of recognition acknowledging the history, and develop a plan of action for removing disadvantage as recommended by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in 1992 and as the Queensland Government did in 2000 to help descendants create positive lives and futures.”

For Media Information and interview:

Marie Geissler: 02 9380 5510  0416 285 727

[email protected]

Emelda Davis: 0416 300 946

[email protected]

4) feedback NO landing in Moreton Bay: Landing in Moreton Bay of the first ship carrying Pacific Island labourers on this day in 1863. – 14 August 2013

“The Courier” Monday, August 17, 1863; (page 2):



August 15.–Williams, steamer, 400 tons, Captain Cotter, from Rockhampton.  Passengers …

August 15.–James Paterson, steamer, 700 tons, Captain Harley, from Rockhampton.

August 15.–Don Juan, schooner, Captain ——, from Sydney.

“The Courier” Monday, August 22, 1863; (page 4):


Under this heading the North Australian of August 20, has the following remarks:–We observe in the parliamentary proceedings in the Assembly of Tuesday last, the following mysterious dialogue.  “Mr. Pugh, seeing the Colonial Secretary in his place, would ask him, without previous notice, whether the South Sea Islanders lately arrived in the Don Juan, who were to be employed on Captain Towns’ plantation, had been kidnapped in the manner adopted by the Peruvian vessels.”  “The Colonial Secretary said he made inquiry into the matter, and had been informed that they had come under distinctly signed contracts to work for one year, and then to be returned from whence they came.”  We say mysterious, because that was the first time we were made aware that the Slave Trade had commenced in Queensland, the repudiation of the Colonial Secretary to the contrary notwithstanding.  Wishing to be enlightened on the subject we referred to our files of the Courier, and there find recorded the following:–

“August 15.–Don Juan, schooner, 100tons, Captain——, from Sydney.”

That is all; even the Captain was palpably so ashamed of the whole affair, that he has managed to have his name suppressed, whilst the cargo of miserable wretches are not even alluded to.  We would ask any one acquainted with the usual manner of reporting vessels, whether the whole affair is not palpably rank and stinks to heaven.    We would ask anyone acquainted with the usual manner of reporting vessels, whether the whole affair is not palpably rank, and stinks to heaven. We shall investigate this matter thoroughly;  and Mr. Pugh should not have sat down apparently satisfied with the reply of the Colonial Secretary which he must have known–to use a mild term–was but bunkum, used to shield a friend.  We shall not be satisfied until some member of the house obtains a select committee to sift the matter to the bottom, so that we may know the circumstances under which traffic in human flesh is being carried on.  Call it what you will, it simply resolves itself into a branch of the Peruvian slave trade under a milder name.  We perfectly remember that Mr. Benjamin Boyd deluged the colony of New South Wales with South Sea Islanders, to the horror and disgust of the colonists.  A law was then passed, which is still in force withdrawing all pagans from the hereperation of the Masters’ and Servants’ Act that had the desired effect, for so soon as the deluded Islanders became acquainted with their legal rights they deserted wholesale, and the result was they were obliged to be sent back from whence they came. This is a very serious subject, and one in which the colony is deeply interested.  As by the answer of Mr. Herbert to Mr. Pugh it is clear that the government are winking at the disgraceful transaction;  it behoves the people’s representatives, therefore, to be up and doing, to suppress this traffic in its infancy.  It is a crying disgrace upon the colony, and can only bring a curse with it;  no reason can be urged for such an unnatural proceeding when hundreds of thousands of our fellow countrymen are starving at home–seeking employment and cannot find it.

“The Courier” Monday, August 24, 1863; (page 4 ?):


(To the Editor of the Courier.)

SIR,–Under the above heading I find a paragraph in the North Australian, in which the writer is pleased to indulge in some remarks relative to Captain Towns’ recent importation of South Sea Islanders, which I must beg you will allow me space to reply to, more especially as you have inserted the said paragraph in your issue of to-day, thereby, of course, giving still greater currency to the gross, and perhaps wilful misrepresentations it contains.  I should not have thought it worth while to reply, but I believe, in consequence of the unwarranted assertions in the local press, the prevailing idea in the public mind is that these natives have been kidnapped.

The announcement of the Don Juan’s arrival was no doubt incorrectly stated, and the information meagre in the extreme; with whom the fault rested I shall presently show. In reference to this the North Australian says; “Even the captain was so ashamed of the whole affair that he has managed to have his name suppressed, whilst the cargo of miserable wretches are not even alluded to.  We would ask anyone acquainted with the usual manner of reporting vessels whether the whole affair is not palpably rank and stinks to heaven.  I must say the language is decidedly original and beautifully descriptive.  I hope the ill-favor of the thoughts, words, and deeds of the composer of that paragraph may not reach such an altitude.

The circumstances connected with the Don Juan’s arrival are simply these:–The vessel anchored at the bar on Friday, the 14th instant, at 9 p.m.  The following morning the captain hoisted his number and the flag for the Health Officer.  These were answered from the lightship, and no further notice was taken of him, nor questions asked.  I suppose, as the vessel was a regular trader for some years between this port and Sydney, the people on board the lightship took it for granted she was from Sydney.  The captain was anxiously expecting the Health Officer all Saturday, and at last on Sunday, at 2 p.m., he pulled up to Lytton, accompanied by Mr. Pilot Wyborn.  Of course, as the ship had not been passed by Dr. Hobbs, he could neither land nor send any letter up, so he shouted from the boat to one of the Customs’ men, to request Mr. Macdonald to forward the intelligence of his arrival to Brisbane, telling him that the vessel was from the South Sea Islands, with natives.  I may mention, the proper signals were also hoisted when the vessel was off the pilot station, at Cape Moreton.

As to the captain suppressing his name, the idea is really too absurd to notice, and how any man in his sane senses can write such bosh I cannot make out;  however, I suppose he either forgot it or did not think it necessary, having shouted from the boat everything else.  Even if he had, it is very certain that the newspapers would have spelt it wrong, being rather an uncommon name.  This omission was remedied on his arrival in town, when the vessel was properly entered, and the cargo of “miserable wretches” duly reported at the Custom House and Shipping Office, and their names given in as well.  Every particular that could be of any public interest was also furnished by the captain to both papers.

Is it not “palpably rank” that a newspaper writer should sit down and deliberately pen such gross charges, without taking the slightest trouble to ascertain whether they were correct or not?

A copy of Captain Towns’ instructions to the master of the vessel and the interpreter, also his letter to the missionaries, and the form of agreement with the natives, I have handed to the Hon. the Colonial Secretary, who, in reply to the questions of Theophilus P. Pugh, Esq., M.L.A., has laid them on the table of the house.

I must not trespass too much upon your space.  I would just take notice of the concluding portion of the paragraph under review–about its being a carrying disgrace, &c., &c., &c.  I can only say that I believe such men as Captain Towns are likely to be of  more use to the “starving thousands” at home than the editor of the North Australian and Theophilus P. Pugh, Esq., M.L.A. I think his offer to bring fifty Lancashire families out at his own expense, and his manificent donation to the Relief Fund (which may still be in the recollection of some of your readers) may be considered sufficient evidence that he is as mindful of the necessities of the poor people at home as all these pseudo-patriots.

I believe were Captain Towns in Brisbane he would treat the affair as it deserves, with silent contempt; but being absent, I hardly think it fair he should be loaded with unlimited abuse without any chance to reply.  I am afraid Captain Towns has the bad taste not to take in that highly respectable journal the North Australian, so I sent him by fast mail a copy of Thursday’s paper, to show that he has been honoured not only with a passing notice, but even a leading article.  The latter unfortunately I have not read.

In conclusion, I would say that the law of Queensland, as it at present stands, enables any capitalist to import and employ what labor he pleases.  How will Captain Towns be deterred from getting as many of these Islanders as he likes, though he incur the risk of the heavy displeasure of Theophilus P. Pugh, Esq., M.L.A., and the thunders of the North Australian.

So anxious were these natives to come, when the matter was properly explained to them, that the captain had literally to drive about 100 of them on shore again.  Proper huts for them, and a large room to mess in, have been erected on the plantation; and if Theophilus P. Pugh, Esq., M.L.A., wants to prevent the importation of these people, let him bring in a bill, and see if he can get it carried.

Yours obediently


South Brisbane, August 22.

Emelda Davis – President, Interim National Body for Australian South Sea Islanders.
(Port Jackson) Ltd – branch


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