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Memories from a forgotten people

Compelling conversations have been captured at State Library of Queensland in emotional and powerful storytelling from the descendants of the first Australian South Sea Islanders, who have come together to tell their stories about what the 150-year heritage anniversary means to them. 

Beginning in 1863, some 62,000 people were kidnapped or taken from South Sea Islands to work in the sugar and cotton industries in Queensland.  By 1908, these same people faced compulsory “repatriation” to the islands under the White Australia Policy and the Pacific Island Labourers Act of 1901. Those remained often suffered harsh treatment and discrimination.

Leading the way with storytelling have been people like Sonia Minniecon whose great-grandmother was kidnapped from a beach as a child, thrown into a hold on a ship and taken to work in the sugar industry in Queensland.   Another is Matthew Nagas whose family did not want to say where they were from.  Matthew tells of his mother saying that their family was “displaced, blackbirded, taking from our lands back in the islands, atrocities not to be talked about”. They were to assimilate, not telling their children who they were or about their heritage. Mal Meninga also tells about his Australian South Sea Island heritage and the importance of family.

These stories and more have gripped and informed us as a people, giving us a chance to heal through storytelling. Memories from a Forgotten People: 150 years of Australian South Sea Islander  made a tremendous contribution to Queensland through cultural programs from June through November 2013.  Activities, programs and exhibitions including storytelling continued through the year.  Read more about Australian South Sea Islander programs and commemorations via the John Oxley Library Blog. Listen to Sonia and Matthew tell their digital stories, as well as many other powerful stories at State Library’s CitizenJ.

Listen to Dr Kate Evans, Imelda Miller,  and John Waldron share their personal and professional experiences of telling sensitive, confronting, and powerful stories of Australian South Sea Islanders

Sonia Minniecon pays tribute to the strong women of the Australian South Sea Islander community both past and present.

Brothers Mal and Geoffrey Meninga talk about the connection they have their Australian South Sea Islander heritage. They talk about their family upbringing around Bundaberg and the Sunshine Coast, tracing their family history back to Tanna, an island in Vanuatu, and how a sense of family has informed their approach to life.

The interview was conducted by Imelda Miller at Palmer Resort during State of Origin camp on 31 May 2013.