‘Blackbirding: Australia’s slave trade?‘ Australian National Maritime Museum blog, 25 August 2017 updated
Update 30 October 2017: (Waskam) Emelda Davis, president of Australian South Sea Islanders, writes in The Conversation:
“Blackbirding” comes from the African slave trade and truly expresses the violence of what happened. There were 870 voyages back and forth to the islands that brought my people to Australia. Some were kidnapped, but it is also undeniable that our warriors chose to return more than once.
Nonetheless, the treatment of the Islanders was atrocious, exploitative and akin to slavery. When plantation owners went bankrupt, the workers were transferred as an asset with the sold property.
A brief summary of the history of the taking of South Sea Islanders to North Queensland in the 19th and 20th century and the survival of an SSI community there and beyond.
In the 1860s [for example], the demand for labor in Queensland, particularly in the burgeoning sugar cane industry, saw trading ships turn into labour “recruitment” vessels across the Pacific. While some workers were indentured, brought to work in Queensland and returned to their homelands, many were not. Unscrupulous traders resorted to kidnapping and all sorts of tricks to entice people on board their vessels. Once on board, many had no idea of where they were headed and many died en route.
Tens of thousands of islanders came from 80 Pacific islands, were often underpaid and worked in poor conditions. The historian Clive Moore has used the term ‘culturally kidnapped’. After Federation in 1901, under the White Australia policy, thousands were deported back to the islands.
South Sea Islander Recognition Day is 25 August and a symposium was held on 8 September in Sydney to discuss and commemorate this history. Dr Evelyn Scott, who died recently, was a distinguished member of the SSI community.