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1.5 The migrant experience: South Sea Islander people

  WARNING: This page contains some difficult and potentially distressing content
<p>South Sea Islander labourer in the sugar cane fields at Bingera, about 1898</p>

John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 2252

<p>South Sea Islander labourer in the sugar cane fields at Bingera, about 1898</p>

From 1863 more than 62,000 people from a number of Pacific islands were brought to Australia, mainly as workers in the Queensland sugar cane fields.

You are about to discover what happened to these people. Much of the information you will learn about is distressing and a powerful reminder that history should uncover all aspects of a nation’s past.

What happened to these people?

Read the information about the South Sea Islanders in the Defining Moment in Australian history: 1863 South Sea Islanders brought to Queensland as indentured labourers. Use that information to answer these questions.

1. Why was Queensland interested in, and suitable for, growing sugar?

2. What supply of cheap labour was no longer available?

3. What were the attitudes of sugar cane plantation owners towards South Sea Islander people? Why did these attitudes make plantation owners want to employ South Sea Islander workers on Queensland sugar farms?

4. South Sea Islander people came to Australia from 80 different Islands. List 3 of these islands and then find them on the map below.

<p>Map of islands in the Southern Pacific, to the east of Australia</p>

Eliane Touma

<p>Map of islands in the Southern Pacific, to the east of Australia</p>

5. How many workers in total came between 1863 and 1904?

6. Many South Sea Islander people were ‘blackbirded’. What does that mean?

7. Many South Sea Islander workers were indentured labourers. What does this mean?

Look at the photographs of Pacific Island labourers below.

8. What impression do you get from these photographs about the nature of the work, and the working and living conditions

9. By the end of the century many Australians were opposed to the importation of South Sea Islander workers. What did the new Australian Parliament do to stop the system and what reasons did they give for doing this?

10. What was the response of the South Sea Islander community to the Pacific Island Labourers Act 1901?

11. What does this event help you understand about the experiences of non-Europeans in colonial Australia?

12. Why was this Defining Moment so significant in Australian history?

13. If you were advising the National Museum of Australia on an object that it could display to tell the story of this event, what would you suggest? (You can see what objects they actually have using the National Museum of Australia collections search)

14. This curriculum area is titled: Making a better world? How do you think a South Sea Islander worker in Queensland might respond to this idea?

Exploring further

As an extension to this activity, research an individual who was a South Sea Islander sugar plantation worker and see what happened to him or her.

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