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Bittersweet Journey

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.

South Sea Islander woman at Farnborough, ca 1895. Negative number 3680
Group of Australian South Sea Islanders standing and sitting in front of a large timber building
Photo of three male South Sea Islanders smoking pipes
Darby family outside their home in Pialba, Queensland, ca 1914
Two Australian South Sea Islander children
Australian South Sea Islanders at the Dillybar settlement near Nambour
"Our boys" Lillock and Peter, South Sea Islanders working at The Hollow
South Sea Islanders arriving by ship in Bundaberg, Queensland Negative number: 18058
Australian South Sea Islanders participating in an obstacle race in Innisfail, 1902
Australian South Sea Islanders standing in a sugar cane field in Queensland
Group portrait of Australian South Sea Islanders at Joskeleigh, Queensland, ca 1915
Two Australian South Sea Islander women on a plantation in Queensland
South Sea Islanders who probably worked on a sugar plantation at The Hollow
Australian South Sea Islander wedding in Bundaberg, Queensland, 1909
Certificate of exemption of Tolomack, 1884