• (L-R) Regina Lepping and Jeremy Bobby play indentured labourers in the award-winning film, Blackbird (Facebook / Blackbird Film Project)
Australian Solomon Islander filmmaker tells the story of Australia's 'blackbirding' slave trade, drawing inspiration from her own family history.
By
NITV Staff Writer

13 Oct 2017 - 11:54 AM  UPDATED 13 Oct 2017 - 4:16 PM

What is Blackbirding?

How much do you know about slavery in Australia? 

While we might know about the Stolen Wages; Aboriginal stockmen, domestic servants and other labourers working difficult, sometimes dire, conditions, having their wages withheld under the Aborigines Protection Act, the history of kidnapping foreigners for the purposes of indentured services, is another part of Australia's dark history of white masters and black servants. 

Known as the practice of 'Blackbirding', an estimated 60,000 South Sea Islanders were brought to Australia between 1863 and 1904 to work on sugarcane and cotton farms in Queensland and Northern NSW. While there is some evidence of people coming to Australia willingly, by large the practice involved manipulative luring and in some cases blatantly forcibly removing of men and their families from their homes in Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and other neighbouring islands.

While these workers were paid, their wages were significantly lower than that of European workers. Many were prohibited from speaking their mother tongue and they were brought into a society which segregated blacks and whites like racial segregation in the US. Their overseas location made it near impossible for them to leave, if such was the decision, and as such the Islanders were forced into slave like conditions in their new 'jobs' in Australia. 

In 1994, the Federal Government formally recognised Australian South Sea Islanders as a distinct community with a unique and significant contribution to the economic and cultural development of Australia, marking 25 August South Sea Islander Recognition Day.   

 

A filmmaker's personal story

Australian Solomon Islander filmmaker Amie Batalibasi is shining a light on the dark and little-known part of Australian history with her film, 'Blackbird'. 

The award-winning film is the culmination of a long personal journey for Batalibasi, with three of the her own ancestors being blackbirded from the Solomon Islands in the late-1800s.

Inspired by her family's history, Blackbird stands to acknowledge the tens of thousands of Pacific Islanders who were taken from their homes to work on Australia's sugar and cotton plantations.

Set in the late-1800s, the film tells the story of Solomon Islander siblings, Rosa (Regina Lepping) and Kiko (Jeremy Bobby), who were kidnapped from their island home to work on a sugarcane plantation in Queensland.

Rosa struggles to keep an eye on her young spirited brother who comes into conflict with their Overseer. Kiko journeys into adulthood, amidst oppression and severe loss of culture and identity, he must find his will to survive.

The film has been screened at a number of national and international film festivals including, Maoriland Film Festival in New Zealand, imagineNATIVE Film Festival in Canada, Skábmagovat Film Festival, in Finland, WINDA Film Festival in Sydney, taking home significant awards such as Best Drama Film (Sydney Indie Film Festival), People's Choice Award for Best Short (Maoriland Film Festival), 'Best of the Fest Award' (Pasifika Film Festival, Sydney & Brisbane). 

 

Amie is currently developing the feature adaptation of Blackbird as the Sundance Institute’s 2017 Merata Mita Fellowship recipient through the Native and Indigenous Film Program.

Blackbird will have its television world premiere on NITV tonight, 13 October at 8.30pm and become available On Demand

 

Related Reading
'We came out of slavery': Calls to amend Queensland monuments to represent labour trade history
As debate rages in the US over the country's Confederate monuments, there are calls from Australia's South Sea Islander community to 'amend' monuments to Robert Towns and John Mackay over their involvement in the practice known as 'blackbirding'.
10 things you should know about slavery in Australia
The dark history of forced labour and Stolen Wages is slowly becoming a national conversation, with people sharing their traumatic first-hand experiences of indentured service. Here are some ugly truths about white masters and black servants in Australian history.
150 years on, South Sea Islanders seek apology for Blackbirding
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