Australian South Sea Islander collections

Nasuven Enares and John Harris with the collections in the John Oxley Library Reading Room, 5 January 2022. Photograph by Robyn Hamilton

Australian South Sea Islanders hold a special place in Queensland’s diverse cultural history. As descendants of some 62,000 South Sea Islanders brought to Queensland between 1863 and 1904 as indentured plantation labour, today's Australian South Sea Islanders have overcome a history of legalised slavery and brutal treatment to possess a unique identity in Queensland, imbued with a rich and vibrant culture.

For many years, Queensland's South Sea Islander communities sought acknowledgement for past treatment, and recognition as a distinct cultural group. After decades of community advocacy, the Commonwealth Government finally recognised that distinction on August 25, 1994. While State Library holds several collections pertaining to the history of Australian South Sea Islanders in Queensland, two significant collections pertain to their long fight for recognition.

The Australian South Sea Islanders United Council Records 1975-2008, 2021 (Acc. 28617) includes documents, research papers, photographs, recorded interviews and other material relating to the work of the Australian South Sea Islanders United Council (ASSIUC) from the mid 1970s. Formed by a group of first descendants at Tweed Heads in 1975, the ASSIUC was the first national body to represent Australian South Sea Islanders, advocating for national recognition and promoting cultural awareness. A second iteration of the ASSIUC was re-registered in Townsville in 1991 and grew to fourteen branches including two in New South Wales. This body was instrumental in bringing communities together and advocating for change.

The Australian South Sea Islanders 150 Commemoration and Festival 2013 Papers (Acc. 29744) also include documents such as meeting minutes and correspondence relating to the Australian South Sea Islanders Secretariat Inc., and photographs and interviews conducted by Nic Maclellan on 13 August 2013 at the Australian South Sea Islander 150th Anniversary event at Ormiston House, Brisbane.

The donor of both collections Ms Nasuven Enares, is a former President (1991-95) of the Australian South Sea Islanders Secretariat Inc., and one of the last first descendants, whose father was brought to Queensland during the blackbirding era. As President, Ms Enares addressed the United Nations in Geneva in 1993 and the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation in The Hague in 1994 leading up to the Commonwealth Government's recognition of Australian South Sea Islanders in 1994.

Since October 2020, Ms Enares with assistance from her colleague John Harris, has made it her mission to create a detailed contents list for each collection. State Library would like to acknowledge their dedication and determined efforts to make these collections more accessible for all.

The content list for Acc. 28617 is now available online, along with both collection guides.  They can be accessed by going to the collection records in State Library's OneSearch catalogue (see above) and clicking on 'View the content list or View the collection guide'.  

Further reading:

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