South Sea Islanders call for Australian Government apology
THE South Sea Islander community has echoed calls for the Australian Government to apologise for decades of blackbirding.
Earlier this month, Queensland One Nation MP and the first elected South Sea Islander to Parliament, Stephen Andrew, was brought to tears during his maiden speech as he spoke about the shameful treatment of his ancestors and called for an apology.
More than 63,000 South Sea Islanders from near Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands were brought to Australia either by force or deception to work on sugar cane plantations in Queensland in the late 1800s.
The workers, also known as "sugar slaves", were often paid tiny wages and physically punished for the most minor of errors.
Of the 63,000 islanders brought to Australia, all but 700 were later deported, with many of those leftover moving to the Tweed.
Australian South Sea Islanders working group spokesperson Emelda Davis, who grew up in Chinderah, said she estimated there were around 6000 to 7000 South Sea Islanders in the Tweed River region.
She said an apology was an "important question" to ask our Government but said it would need to be "a meaningful one".
"In terms of an apology for the atrocities that occurred, the disconnect with family and much-needed reparations to support economic stability, an apology is well suited," she said.
"But it would need to be a meaningful apology, not just a sorry but something that will continue to build our communities across Australia and abroad.
"We still need to find our families and need support from the government to do that."
Ms Davis said blackbirding was "Australia's best-kept secret" and called for the act to be a more prominent subject in the curriculum of Australian schools.
"Whenever you speak about the blackbirding trade or slavery in Australia, only some know about it which they've learnt in school," she said.
"But if we're going to talk about the beginnings of Captain Cook and the Anzacs, let's not forget the 63,000 that gave their lives to building this nation, it's a significant number of people."
Ms Davis said an apology would not be about blame, but healing.
"To see the community receive an apology for the contribution of their forefathers, it would be a wonderful thing for our nation, it's not about blame but everyone being a part of the Australian story," she said.