Bittersweet Journey

Australian South Sea Islanders


Photographs from the John Oxley Library reveal the multiple layers of Australian South Sea Islanders’ experience during the 19th and early 20th centuries in Queensland.  Captured through the lens of time, we see the cultural diversity and contribution to heritage made by Islanders who were brought to Queensland as indentured labourers from 1863 through 1904.  

Many of the indentured labourers were young boys in their early teens who were coerced to Queensland by dubious and unethical means, with use of trickery and kidnapping often reported. We see transformation of cultural identity reflected in physical changes of dress and in the societal changes of work and play.  Many of the images depict very difficult and dangerous work conditions as well as the everyday of the boys, men, women and children.  From work to marriage to family life, much is revealed, allowing us access to this fraught part of Queensland’s history some 150 years later and to fully realise the significant contribution made to our collective heritage.