Fight for recognition of Australia's South Sea Islanders
The push for recognition of Australia's South Sea Islanders community, which the University of Sydney says is a human right for a forgotten people.
The University of Sydney is tonight hosting a forum calling for formal recognition of Australia's South Sea Islander communities.
It is one of a number of events marking 150 years since thousands of people, mostly from Melanesia, were taken to Australia as indentured labourers - many of them forcibly, in what has come to be called 'blackbirding.'
Forty thousand of their descendants remain in Australia after tens of thousands of the labourers were deported when the White Australia policy come into force in the early 1900s.
The first several generations had to struggle without access to services, citizenship or the right to vote.
In the 1960s they were included as part of Australia's indigenous community but one of the conference organisers Matt Poll told Don Wiseman they want to be recognised as a people in their own right.
MATT POLL: Many have been only in recent years following up with their ancestors in places like Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, even New Caledonia. And discussions with Vanuatu government representatives for example have talked about issues such as duel citizenship but also to be able to reconnect families that were pretty drastically separated through the processes of blackbirding between 1863 and 1901.
DON WISEMAN: How do you marry a whole of different ethnic groups into one in that sense?
MP: It's a bit of a Diaspora community for sure so for instance a lot of South Sea Islander people have married into Aboriginal, Torres Straight Islander, or the wider Australian community families so this call for recognition is a chance for people who are descendants of those indentured labourers to form a recognition in a sense and come together to recognise this history which has only really existed in a lot of oral history, it's a pretty hard job going through the archives and different record keeping services to actually put the whole story together so it's a real process of education for the South Sea Islander community as well as the wider Australian community.
DW: Not a lot of recognition within the wider white Australian community of just what happened here.
MP: No, I mean the second Act of parliament after the White Australia policy was the Pacific Island Indentured Labourers Act which created the situation of the forced removal in 1901 so there was a lot of history just swept under the rug basically and a lot of shameful practices that took place so in regards to unpaid wages and different situations like that so it was not really something that was celebrated in Australian history textbooks.
DW: So in terms of unpaid wages, there are what, there are still records of these, and people want that money?
MP: Oh definitely Professor Clive Moore from James Cook University has actually being doing some amazing research into that and he says only 15% of the withheld wages are returned to relatives of the South Sea Islanders who worked in Australia so that's quite a significant amount but also it's part of the accessing service, you know to create national networks and services for the descendants of this community to in some ways receive reparations for the incredibly hard work that they did in the plantation industries, I mean for nearly 60 years there they were the backbone of the industry and a lot of companies like the Commonwealth Sugar Refineries, different organisations like that have benefitted financially, economically in very massive ways based on this groundwork that was done by the South Sea Islanders and they don't receive a lot of recognition of that.
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