Australian South Sea Islander Lived Identities project

About the ASSI lived identities project


In August 2017, the Mackay and District Australian South Sea Islander Association (MADASSIA) unveiled new markers on 114 previously unmarked graves in the ‘heathen’ section of a historical cemetery. A few months earlier, roadworks uncovered a previously unknown stone wall built during the plantation period. In the stores of Queensland Museum, a traditional Vanuatu club tells a story of objects changing hands between indentured labourers and the doctors responsible for their health. On the still-running sugar mill in Ayr, a plantation labourer’s barracks stands in silent testimony to the workers who built the plantation economy of Central Queensland. What do these items hold in common? They are all material testimony to the lives of Australian South Sea Islanders, imported labourers from the Pacific Islands who played an integral role to the development of Queensland’s economy and society from 1863 through the early 20th century, before being marginalised by Australia’s discriminatory immigration policies.

Australian South Sea Islander communities have been vigilant and passionate about recording history and documenting sites of significance. For the community it is important to be an equal partner in this project and continue to build on these important building blocks by acknowledging and recording the knowledge and histories held by the community. As well as working towards ensuring these stories are shared across Australia, they are building up sense of Australian South Sea Islander identity, heritage, and capacity for research that will have a lasting impact for future generations.

Today Australian South Sea Islanders in Queensland feel an urgency in relation to recording local heritage: both the tangible, landscape features threatened by decay or continuing development; and the intangible, knowledge held by the rapidly aging generation of elders who are the last generation who had direct contact with former plantation labourers.

Research - Archaeology, landscapes and collections

This project integrates the perspectives of historical archaeology, museology, cultural landscapes, and heritage studies. The project will:

  • Expand on Australian South Sea Islander historiography to tell stories that are meaningful for Australian South Sea Islander communities, using a multidisciplinary approach spanning archaeology, documentary history, museum collections research, oral traditions, and cultural landscape mapping.
  • Produce a cultural map of places (past and present) of significance to Australian South Sea Islander communities in Central Queensland.
  • Excavate and analyse key archaeological landscapes relating to Australian South Sea Islander history and culture in Central Queensland as identified with Australian South Sea Islander community stakeholders.
  • Deepen understandings of Australian South Sea Islander related collections held by Queensland Museum and other regional, State and National collecting institutions, and create links that allow for more connected interpretations of geographically dispersed materials.
  • Design and produce an interactive online node of Australian South Sea Islander cultural knowledge
  • Collaborate with institutional and Australian South Sea Islander partners to develop a national touring exhibition presenting the primary outcomes of the project.
  • Develop and document a participatory research methodology that goes beyond existing models for collaborative research in partnership with Australian South Sea Islander communities, and could be applied to other communities.


Team acknowledgements

Christine Andrew
Carmel Baretta
Winifred Boah
Robert Cole
Lou Cole
Donielle Fatnowna
Kaye Fatnowna
Stephanie Fatnowna
Marion Healy
Janeese Henaway
Raechel Ivey
Doris Leo
Joe Leo OAM
Monica Leo
Stacey Mills
Doug Mooney
Dylan Mooney

Roy Mooney
Gordon Quakawoot
Robert Ryan
Diane Smallwood
Eddie Smallwood
Col Summerfeld
Erryn Tomarra
George Tonga
Bernard Tonga
Joyanne Vea Vea
Starrett Vea Vea
Tracey Vea Vea
Christine Walker
Joanne Warkill
Kerry Warkill
Melanie Yasserie
Creedence Yasserie

Communities and Organisations

Joskeleigh Community Association
Mackay and District Australian South Sea Islanders Association
Ayr Australian South Sea Islander Community
Rockhampton Australian South Sea Islander Committee
Canegrowers Association

Feature stories

Want to see more?

Explore the rich diversity and significance of Australian South Sea Islander items online!

View collection

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