Decolonising Labour Markets: The Australian South Sea Island Diaspora and the Role of Cultural Expression in Connecting Communities
Known in Vanuatu as blackbirding, the process of recruiting, negotiating with, bribing, and sometimes kidnapping men and women from (predominantly) Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, to come and work on cane fields and cotton plantations was only discontinued in the early twentieth century. Many of the labourers settled in Australia, intermarried with local European settlers and indigenous Australians. Today, their descendants are referred to as Australian South Sea Islanders (ASSI). Over the last century, ASSI people have experienced great hardship and discrimination as the Government and unions continued to restrict access to work and social services. By framing the interactions between ASSI and Vanuatu as a conscious attempt to redress the legacy of blackbirding, this study takes a novel approach to the informal and community-led instruments of transitional justice. This chapter argues that people come to terms with their past in ways that are rooted in their own local histories and experiences. Transitional justice is informed by history-telling and the creation of collective memories through cultural expression. The research concludes that transitional justice processes can assist the ASSI diaspora to advocate for the Australian Government to participate more meaningfully in this process.
KeywordsBlackbirding Australian South Sea Islanders Cultural expression Vanuatu Diaspora Transitional justice
I owe a debt of gratitude to the many Australian South Sea Islanders and ni-Vanuatu who generously agreed to share their experience as a part of this research project. I also wish to acknowledge the input of (Waskam) Emelda Davis, President of the Australian South Sea Islanders Port Jackson—a woman who is at the forefront of the movement for greater recognition for her people. Also thanks to Gemma Tamock and Ralph Regenvanu for their ongoing contributions and to Clive Moore for feedback.