Australian South Sea Islanders will gather in Brisbane’s State Library of Queensland this weekend to commemorate 150 years of blackbirding at their national Wantok forum
Source
NITV News
1 Nov 2013 - 5:24 PM  UPDATED 2 Nov 2013 - 3:54 PM

Australian South Sea Islanders will gather in Brisbane’s State Library of Queensland this weekend to commemorate 150 years of blackbirding at their national Wantok forum.

Queensland Indigenous elders and Melanesian leaders, all with an aim to form a national body, will unite over the next three days, calling for an apology over blackbirding.

By the end of the weekend, a new national representative organisation will have been formed.

South Sea Islanders from around the nation, including elder Aunty Bonita Mabo, received gifts from the people of Vanuatu before the forum got under way.

This community derives from the descendants of kanakas, or young men, who were brought to Queensland to work in the cane fields.

These first boatloads were blackbirded, or tricked onto ships, and treated as little more than slaves.

The establishment of a national representative body is a difficult birth, with debate over which state it should be based in and who should be involved.

Emelda Davis, President of the Australian South Sea Islanders (Port Jackson), believes Aunty Bonita Mabo is well deserving of a position as she has had bloodlines to Tanna Island in Vanuatu.

She is also well known in her community as a Native Title pioneer and is currently a traditional owner of Palm Island.

Recently the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, Gordon Darcy Lilo, called for a formal apology from the Australian Government for blackbirding.

Many Australian South Sea Islanders have also called for an apology, something Vanuatu Lands Minister Ralph Regenvanu is willing to support.

There has been formal Federal Government recognition in the past of South Sea Islanders as a separate ethnic group from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

An action plan was also produced in 2000, outlining Government dealings with Islanders.

Queensland ALP member for Mackay, Tim Mulholland, says 13 years later it should be looked at again.

Wantok, Pidgin for 'one-talk' or somebody who speaks the same language as me, will continue in Brisbane until Sunday.