Sunday, September 22, 2013

Mikael Willie writes about The ASSI 150 Project and pride in identity




It is 2013, and it is 150 years since the first South Sea Islanders were brought into Queensland to work as indentured labourers  on plantations that were part of the opening up of the new colony. Robert Towns  had a cotton plantation at Townsville (now Veradale) near Beaudesert. This was the destination of the first Islanders brought into Queensland. They arrived at Redbank and walked 45 km to Townsville stopping to break the journey at Jimboomba station. Other local plantation owners soon followed suit with the importation of South Sea Islander labour. After the failure of cotton growing on the Logan River, South Sea Islander labour was used extensively to develop the sugar, pastoral and Beche-de-mer industries in Queensland. Up to 60,000 South Sea Islanders were brought to this country until the early 20th century.
On Saturday 24th of August I was lucky enough to be a part of the ASSI 150 project,  my name is Mikael Willie I am a Year 11 student at Chisholm College,   and I am of South Sea Islander descent, from Banks Island at the very top of Vanuatu, I also have connections to Tanna Is, Ambrym Is and Epi from my two great grandmothers, I also have Indigenous heritage from the Gureng Gureng  people near Bundaberg, it was a real honour to stand by my people as we marched the land of Beaudesert, it made me feel proud of my South Sea Island and Aboriginal identity. 
The march was walked on the same path that my ancestors walked when arriving at the sugar canes. I was very proud to be a part of the march, representing my people. I walked with the highest Authorities of Vanuatu Paramount Chief Richard Fandanumata (from Tonga) he is the representative chief of all Vanuatu and founder of Blackbirding issue against Australia. This event was very significant as the Indigenous tribe of Beaudesert the Mununjali people welcomed us into their land also using a smoke ceremony where all the South Sea Islanders in the march walked through the smoke into the land. 
Nowadays, their descendants are scattered across Queensland and NSW and have made a significant contribution to the country. Specifically, the ASSI 150 Project will work towards an exhibition and associated events initially for a period of time in 2013 but the vision is for these to be exhibited and performed in venues throughout SE Qld. The aim is to help tell that story to the wider community and to acknowledge and commemorate the contribution that Australian South Sea Islanders have made.

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