Today’s Australian South Sea Islanders have a special place in Queensland’s cultural diversity and history. They are the descendants of South Sea Islanders brought to Queensland from 1863 to 1904 from 80 Melanesian islands to work the State’s cotton and sugar plantations. The 62,000 men, women and children were considered a cheap source of labour, with many being kidnapped, tricked or blackbirded. By 1908, many had been deported under the “White Australia” policy and those who remained suffered harsh treatment and discrimination. Today, Australian South Sea Islanders have a unique identity in Queensland, which is embedded in a rich heritage and vibrant culture.
To mark the contribution of Australian South Sea Islanders to Queensland for the past 150 years, State Library of Queensland has engaged with many interested people, in particular members of the Australian South Sea Islander Community to explore collection materials, to digitise content for world-wide access and to develop workshops, programs, discussions, tours and a wide range of exhibitions throughout the State this past year. This included Memories from a Forgotten People, a major collaborative project between the State Library of Queensland, Queensland Art Gallery l Gallery of Modern Art, recognising this important year in Queensland’s history. A hidden history with many difficult stories, this rich contribution to Queensland heritage will now be remembered for longevity through blogs, events and everyday recognition.
During 2013, State Library of Queensland, with input from many stake holders, put together a selection of digitised historic content that depicts the story of Melanesians brought to Queensland to work in the sugar and cotton plantations and is developing a more recent recollection of the Australian South Sea Islander Community today through contemporary stories and imagery.