South Sea Islanders - 150 Years on the Fraser Coast

“The anniversary is very significant for the region,” Fraser Coast Deputy Mayor George Seymour said.

“In November 1867, nearly one hundred labourers arrived on the wharves of Maryborough aboard the Mary Smith having been brought from their homes in the South Sea Islands.

“Many more would follow, often kidnapped from their homes or brought under false promises and then subjected to abuse and inadequate medical care.

Joe Eggmolesse, whose great-grandparents and grandparents came by ship in the latter part of the 1800s from Vanuatu to labour in plantations around Maryborough, has researched the history of South Sea Islanders in Queensland.

“Looking at the archival records we know about the high mortality rate for South Sea Islanders here on the Fraser Coast. We know many went into the hospital and then into the cemetery there in Tinana,” Mr Eggmolesse said.

“The 150th anniversary should be about recognising and honouring them. They were brought here as cheap or slave labour under the guise of indentured labour.”

Cr Seymour said that the situation of the South Sea Islanders was one that history has for too long downplayed. 

“We effectively had a system of slavery here that only really came to an end with the adoption of the White Australia Policy,” he said.

“However some South Sea Islanders stayed and they, and their descendants, like Joe, have made significant contributions to Australian society.”

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