Australian label South Sea Islanders refers
to the Australian descendants of people
from the more than 80 islands in the Western
Pacific: Melanesia: mainly the Solomon
Islands and Vanuatu (formerly New Hebrides)
Polynesia and Micronesia: the Loyalty
Islands, Samoa, Kiribati and Tuvalu) who
were recruited (some by kidnapping or
blackbirding) to labour in the sugar cane
fields of Queensland, Australia from the
1860s over a period of 40 years. As stated
in the article on the history of Vanuatu
During the 1860s, planters in Australia,
Fiji, New Caledonia, and the Samoa Islands,
in need of laborers, encouraged a long-term
indentured labor trade called blackbirding.
At the height of the labor trade, more
than one-half the adult male population
of several of the Islands worked abroad.
These people were generally referred to
as Kanakas, although many Islander descendants
today regard the term as pejorative and
an insulting reminder of their ancestors'
exploitation at the hands of white planters.
time, owing to intermarriage, many Australian
South Sea Islanders also claim a mixed
ancestry including Aboriginals, Torres
Strait Islanders and immigrants from the
South Pacific Islands. Of the 62,000 South
Sea Islanders recruited the majority were
repatriated by the Australian Government
in the period between 1906-08 under the
Pacific Island Labourers Act 1901, legislation
related to the White Australia Policy.
Those exempted from repatriation, and
a number of others who escaped the deportations
remained in Australia to form the basis
of what is today Australia's largest non-Indigenous
black ethnic group. The question of how
many Islanders were blackbirded is unknown
and remains controversial. The question:
Were Islanders legally recruited, persuaded,
deceived, coerced or forced to leave their
homes and travel by ship to Queensland?
Official documents and accounts from the
period often conflict with the oral tradition
passed down to the descendants of workers.
Stories of blatantly violent kidnapping
tended to relate to the first 10–15
years of the trade.