30th August 2014

Federal Government motion in consideration of Australian South Sea Islanders (ASSI)

Call for rightful inclusion some ‘ 20 years later  ’

2014 marks twenty years since the 1994 Commonwealth Recognition of Australian South Sea Islanders (ASSI). The term “Australian South Sea Islander” refers to the Australian descendants of people from more than 80 islands in the Western Pacific including the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu (formerly the New Hebrides) island Papua New Guinea and the Loyalty Islands (New Caledonia) in Melanesia, Kiribati, Rotuma (Fiji), Tuvalu in Polynesia and Micronesia who were recruited through an indentured labour trade which was akin to slavery. Some Islands were reaped of their entire male population, all were culturally kidnapped and displaced.

In 1847 Benjamin Boyd an entrepreneur-adventurer bought 226 Melanesian labourers illegally to Eden NSW which proved to be a human disaster. The main influx of the trade to Queensland occurred between 1863 and 1904, which aided the establishment of Australia’s economical base in sugar cane, maritime and pastoral industries. Some forty years later in 1901 the new Commonwealth Parliament legislated the ‘White Australia Policy’ which aimed to report all Islander immigrants, the worst inhumane act of mass deportation in Australian history.

A form of ethnic cleansing, outcome was the deportation of over 7,000 South Sea Islanders and families torn apart. After a forty year period of displacement to Australia Islanders were again suffered upheaval and were discarded. Some were allowed to stay under ‘special’ circumstances but the majority were never to return and in some cases they were estranged on different islands, causing warfare, death and further cultural dislocation. 15,000 Islanders lost their lives (= 30% of the labour trade). They were unmourned with no identity and left scattered in unmarked graves still today.

Emelda Davis – President of the ASSI.PJ Sydney says … ‘

My grandfather (my mother’s father) Moses Toupay Enares was taken off the beach on Tanna Island at the age of 12 years.  He escaped deportation and walked from QLD to Sydney and was helped to hide away by a white lady that had him wash dishes for months. When he raised enough money he returned to Queensland.

This story can been seen in the 1995 television documentary Sugar Slaves told by Phyllis Corowa, Moses Toupay Enares’ oldest surviving daughter.

Since the 1970s, the ASSI community have lobbied and revived the cry for rightful inclusion in meaningful programs and services for their people with the ignited support and commitment from Federal and State Governments, local ministers, organisations and broader community collaborators. 2011 ASSI community and Vanuatu Paramount Chiefs gathered in Bald Hills QLD to discuss a united voice. This forum seeded the 2012 inaugural Wantok initiative in Bundaberg firstly funded by a donation from the NSW Premier, City of Sydney and Bundaberg Regional Council.

International support has seen the Vanuatu Government play an integral role in participating forums and commemoration ceremonies to remembering their lost families and more recently have offered ASSI descendants dual citizenship for a nominal fee in assisting reconnection with country, culture and family. Solomon Islands National Museum hosted commemoration ceremonies in recognition of 150 years since their generations were stolen and launched an historical blackbirding exhibition as apart of the International Museums Day in May 2014. They will also host the first of two workshops supported by the Christensen Fund this year from the 28th November to 1st December to share knowledge that focuses on finding family in the Solomon’s.

The fruits of ASSI descendants political lobbying is evident and monumental work which has recently seen (in 2013) NSW Parliament recognize the ASSI community through the collaboration with Alex Greenwich (Member for Sydney) on a motion and debate that secured bipartisan support and a firm commitment of support from NSW State Minister Victor Dominello Minister for Citizenship, Communities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Affairs for ASSI NSW.

2013 the Commonwealth funded three-community cohesion – national capacity building workshops in Brisbane, Mackay and Tweed Heads. These workshops brought together over 1,000 ASSI community members to participate in cultural engagement and adoption of a national federation representative model. This will be complimented with the recent delivery of a draft national ASSI-specific constitution through the pro bono services of lawyers Gilbert & Tobin.  2014 and 2015 will see final consultations and the democratic election of the first 12 delegates to the National Australian South Sea Islanders Association.

This Monday 1st September 2014 Federal Member for Dawson George Christensen and Federal Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt will be speaking in support of the below motion in the Federation Chamber at approximately 1pm.

Graham Mooney AM, (cultural mentor, political activist) hales from one of the largest families in Mackay the Fatnowna-Mooney-Bobongie-Sabbo lineage. He is also a Yuwibara traditional claimant and of South Sea Islander (Solomon/Vanuatu) heritage. He says:

 This has been 20 years in waiting and I am grateful and proud   that George Christensen Mackay Federal Minister has devised and is to move this motion in support of our community needs. I contributed greatly to the 1992 Human Rights and Equal Opportunities report ‘The Call for Recognition’ and to come full circle two decades later still facing inequality and severe lack of inclusion in meaningful programs and services is an atrocity for our ASS community.

Emelda Davis ASSI.PJ President says:

The Australian South Sea Islanders (Port Jackson) board have been provided opportunity to attend the motion on Monday at Canberra Parliament House in hope that the Commonwealth will follow through on their 1994 commitment to our communities, giving us a greater sense of inclusion and belonging. ASSI history should be mandatory in all school curriculums alongside our Aboriginal history. People need to understand the complexity and synergy of these three Indigenous cultures in Australia, given the racial demographic.

On Monday once more we will be remembered in Parliament, but when will we receive concrete assistance to bring the ASSI community up to national social and economic standards?

5 MR CHRISTENSEN: To move—That this House:

(1) acknowledges the 20th anniversary of the Australian Government’s recognition of Australian-born South Sea Islanders as a distinct ethnic group in Australia;

(2) expresses deep regret

(a) over the cruel treatment of the approximately 60,000 South Sea Islanders, mainly young men, who were blackbirded (or essentially kidnapped) or lured onto ships and then transported to Australia for the purpose of indentured labour; and

(b) that a number of discriminatory acts followed, chief among these being the forced repatriation of Pacific Island labourers back to their place of origin in 1906, in many cases against the will of those being repatriated;

(3) acknowledges the considerable economic contribution of Australians of South Sea Islander descent to the establishment of the sugar industry in the state of Queensland, and other agricultural and industrial development in the north 

(4) celebrates the contributions of so many Australians of South Sea Islander descent to Australian life in every field of endeavour, from the football field to the political sphere; and

(5) calls for consideration of measures to ensure that Australians of South Sea Islander descent can achieve equity and assistance in this present day through:

(a) inclusion on the national census as a separate people group, by the simple addition of an extra question;

(b) access to diabetes treatment in the same way this is available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders; and

(c) access to assistance in all areas of disadvantage such as health, housing, education and training.

Media Enquiries


Emelda Davis mobile: 0416300946

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