CULTURAL PRIDE: South Sea Islander women Ros Wallace and Simone Warkill celebrate the recognition of their culture.
CULTURAL PRIDE: South Sea Islander women Ros Wallace and Simone Warkill celebrate the recognition of their culture. Lisa Benoit Roklceremony

Our South Sea Island culture is rich and dark

THERE'S a degree of irony when one considers the shady history of the area where Rockhampton's PCYC now stands.

Rockhampton residents will acknowledge the area, in north Rockhampton, as a community hub for youth development; and acknowledge greatly the programs run at the self-funded facility.

For South Sea Island Rockhampton woman Ros Wallace, the land once housed a docking station where her ancestors were sold as slaves.

In the 1860s, scores of South Sea Islanders, who were blackbirded or kidnapped from islands in the Western Pacific, were shipped up the Fitzroy River to the site.

Ros said it was there they were shoved off the boats, auctioned and branded like cattle as slaves. From there they were forced to work strenuous labour, mainly in the sugar cane industry.

Fellow South Sea Islander Simone Warkill described the work her ancestors conducted for white traders in Central Queensland as "brutal and barbarous". "They were used as machines," she said.

"Some of these slaves were children as young as eight years old." Although Ros and Simone shared some of the darker stories from their heritage, the day was to celebrate the National Government's recognition of Australian South Sea Islanders, as a distinct minority group, in 1994.

Members of Rockhampton's South Sea Islander community celebrated their heritage with a flag-raising ceremony held at Rockhampton's Town Hall yesterday.

Their history

Of some 55,000 to 62,500 South Sea Islanders blackbirded or kidnapped for slavery, around 10,000 remained in Australia in 1901. The majority were repatriated by the Australian Government between 1906-08 under the Pacific Island Labourers Act 1901, a piece of legislation related to the White Australia Policy.

The Australian label South Sea Islanders refers to the Australian descendants of people from the more than 80 islands in the Western Pacific - including the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu


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