THE NRL’s appeal to raise money for the victims of Vanuatu’s cyclone disaster is one I hope all Queenslanders will support as a sign of gratitude for the South Sea islanders that helped to make this state so great.
This is a cause personally close to my heart, given my proud South Sea islander heritage.
But it is also an opportunity for Queenslanders to help a wonderful group of people in their time of need, and acknowledge the strong historical ties.
Over a period of four decades from the middle of the 19th Century, around 60,000 labourers were brought from the Papua New Guinea and the South Sea islands — including what is now known as Vanuatu — to work in the Queensland cane fields.
These workers were “blackbirded”, which basically means tricked or taken against their will to become “indentured workers” in a foreign land.
Most became canecutters, but these labourers were also used to help build roads and railways all the way down the Queensland coast to northern NSW.
My Pop and my father were among them — they were cane cutters until the 1960s.
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These workers helped to build the Queensland we know today, working hard for long hours and short pay packets a long way from home.
Then, at the start of the 20th Century, came the “White Australia” immigration policy, and they were told to get out of the country they had been taken to by force, worked hard to help, and now had to justify their own existence to stay in.
Some were married, some had their employees act as sponsors for them, meaning about 2000 were allowed to stay.
But thousands upon thousands more were not.
The “lucky” ones were shipped back to their own islands.
The less lucky were dropped on the nearest convenient island, a place they didn’t know and they were not welcome. Because of local tribalism, violence often followed.
But there are also stories of others who were simply dropped in the ocean and left to fend for themselves.
The ones that were able to stay established themselves up the eastern seaboard, living in regions like Cairns, Tonwsville, Mackay, Bundaberg — where I was born — the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane.
And the way that many of these men were able to make themselves a part of their new communities was through rugby league.