Australian South Sea Islanders

Australian South Sea Islanders are the Australian-born direct descendants of people who were brought (in the main) to Australia between 1863 and 1904 to work as indentured labourers in the primary industries.

Over 50,000 people (predominantly men) came from some 80 Pacific Islands, primarily Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, and the majority were kidnapped, 'Blackbirded' or deceived into coming.

While some ancestors of Australian South Sea Islanders may have left their homelands by choice, they were more often than not subjected to the same discrimination and harsh treatment as those that were deceived or taken by force.

Despite the hardship and discrimination faced by the community, Australian South Sea Islanders have contributed significantly to the social, cultural and economic development of Queensland. Australian South Sea Islanders provided labour to help build local economies and key industries. They contributed to the development of farming and grazing, as well as the maritime industry, pearling, mining, the railways, domestic services and childcare. They have also served the nation as members of the defence force in times of peace and war.

August 2013 marked the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first South Sea Islanders brought to Queensland.

The anniversary was a significant milestone in Queensland's history and an important opportunity to reflect on the achievements and valuable contributions that Australian South Sea Islanders have made, and continue to make, to our great state.

Want to learn more about Australian South Sea Islander history?

The Queensland United Australian South Sea Islander Council (QUASSIC) have an extensive series of historical information sheets produced by Emeritus Professor Clive Moore.

The Queensland State Library (SLQ) has a range of content exploring Australian South Sea Islander history including photographs, heritage maps, videos, conversations, art and much more.

The National Museum Australia’s ‘Defining Moments’ timeline includes a focus on Islander labourers exploring history from the 1860s through to recognition in 2000. The museum also has a classroom resource for this content.

Watch Zia’s Story

Zia Youse is a proud Australian South Sea Islander. She is one of many descendants of the South Sea Islanders who were brought to Queensland from 1863 to 1904 from 80 Melanesian islands to work the State’s cotton and sugar plantations, enduring harsh conditions, poor treatment, and discrimination. Today, Australian South Sea Islanders like Zia have a special place in Queensland’s cultural diversity and history with a unique identity that is embedded in a rich heritage and vibrant culture.

Australian South Sea Islander recognition

Today's Australian South Sea Islanders are a distinct cultural group with a unique history and position in Australian society. Australian South Sea Islanders have little in common with more recent groups of migrants (including from Pacific Island nations), having been settled in Australia since the 19th century. Nor are Australian South Sea Islanders indigenous, although some have dual or tri-cultural heritage through interrelationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and many have shared some aspects of the disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Through their own extensive lobbying over decades, Australian South Sea Islanders have continued to bring their struggles and concerns to the attention of Commonwealth, State and independent bodies.

In response, the Australian South Sea Islander community was recognised by the Commonwealth Government as a unique minority group in 1994. This recognition followed a 1992 report, 'The Call for Recognition: A Report on the Situation of Australian South Sea Islanders', which was undertaken by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

The Queensland Government adopted a formal Recognition Statement (PDF, 445 KB) in July 2000.

The Queensland Multicultural Policy, 'Our story, our future' includes a statement recognising Australian South Sea Islanders.

The Queensland Government is committed to ensuring that present and future generations of Australian South Sea Islanders have equality of opportunity to participate in and contribute to the economic, social, political and cultural life of the state.

The Queensland Government requires its departments and other agencies to act on this commitment through their policies, programs and services.