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.

Australian South Sea Islanders photographed at Bingera Sugar Plantation Image number: APE-021-01-0006

Male South Sea Islanders smoking pipes in Queensland, ca 1885 Negative number: 16951

Darby family outside their home in Pialba, Queensland, ca 1914 Negative number: 48664

Two young South Sea Islander children near Innisfail, Queensland, ca 1903 Negative number: 128204

Australian South Sea Islanders at the Dillybar settlement near Nambour Negative number: 23817

"Our boys" Lillock and Peter, South Sea Islanders working at The Hollow Image number: raw00061

Australian South Sea Islanders participating in an obstacle race in Innisfail, 1902 Negative number: 33975

Australian South Sea Islanders standing in a sugar cane field in Queensland Negative number: 18065

Two Australian South Sea Islander women on a plantation in Queensland Negative number: 109847

South Sea Islanders who probably worked on a sugar plantation at The Hollow Image number: raw00108

Australian South Sea Islander wedding in Bundaberg, Queensland, 1909 Negative number: 43824