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Sense of Belonging

Video clip synopsis – Joe and Monica Leo embark on a journey to Vanuatu to recover a small part of their past.
Year of production - 2005
Duration - 4min 32sec
Tags - belonging, family, South Sea Islanders, Vanuatu, White Australia Policy, see all tags


Sense of Belonging

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About the Video Clip


This interview with Joe and Monica Leo was recorded for the Pacific Stories website produced in 2005.

Joe and Monica Leo are the descendents of ni-Vanuatu who helped build Queensland’s sugar industry.

Pacific Stories is a co-production between Film Australia’s National Interest Program and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Presented by Vika and Linda Bull, the project explores the geography, history and culture of the South Pacific.

Background Information


Between 1863 and 1904 about 60,000 people from the islands of the South Pacific were transported to Queensland, where they toiled to create the sugar plantations of the far north. While many of the Pacific Islanders were enticed to travel to Queensland, perhaps seeking a better life, others were kidnapped. This human trafficking was euphemistically known as ‘blackbirding’.

At the beginning of last century harsh legislation such as the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, known as the ‘White Australia policy’, resulted in the deportation of many South Sea Islanders. A few thousand were permitted to remain and today north Queensland is home to more than 20,000 of their descendants.

In the late 1980s, an Evatt Foundation report (initiated by some South Sea Island leaders concerned at the deteriorating social and economic situation of their community), made the Federal Government aware that Australian South Sea Islanders had become a ‘forgotten people’ in Australia’s multicultural society. In 1983 the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) released a report called The Call for Recognition.

The Commission’s conclusions included: that the islanders were one of the poorest groups in Australia with a century of racial discrimination and harsh treatment the main contributing factors; that the islanders as a group were in a situation of high need with particular difficulties in respect to school retention, employment skills, home ownership and health; and that the group had been denied government recognition as a distinct black minority group.

Among the Commission’s recommendations were that the Government should formally recognise Australian South Sea Islanders as a unique minority group severely disadvantaged as a consequence of racial discrimination, and that Australian South Sea Islanders should be identified as a high-need group in equal opportunity, access and equity programs.

In 1994 Australian South Sea Islanders won official recognition as a distinct ethnic group. Since then, there have been efforts by governments to correct the significant disadvantages facing these people. In 2000, the Federal Parliament formally recognised Australian South Sea Islanders as a distinct cultural group. This was followed by a public apology to the Islanders for their decades of mistreatment.

Further Resources
The Call for Recognition: a report on the situation of Australian South Sea Islanders, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, 1992 – cited in ‘The Call for Recognition’, Department of the Premier and Cabinet (Queensland)

Classroom Activities


Pre-viewing exercises:

  1. Go to Pacific Stories Website. From the seven Pacific Stories, select the story of the ‘Sugar Slaves – Australia-Vanuatu, 1995’. Read the film synopsis to learn more about the secret history of Australia’s slave trade.
  2. Explore the above site further and ensure that you find the map of the Pacific Region to familiarise yourself with the area being discussed in the video clip.
  3. List all of the museums you have been to or have heard of. Why is it important to have museums?
  4. What is a pejorative term? Discuss some pejorative terms your have heard in your own life or related texts and analyse how they could be hurtful to others.

First viewing:

  1. How does having a South Sea Island Museum legitimise Joe and Monica’s culture?
  2. Why does Joe say that the children and grandchildren being “so much alike” add to a sense of belonging?
  3. How did the visits to Vanuatu help Joe and Monica create a sense of:
    1. Kinship?
    2. Heritage?
    3. Family?
  4. According to Joe, how does the act of passing information down through the generations contribute to a sense of belonging?

Second Viewing:

  1. # Why does Joe say, “we were called Fuzzy Wuzzies and goodness knows what”?
    1. Why is it important for governments to officially recognise cultural groups?
  2. How does the lack of an on screen interviewer empower Monica and Joe as narrators of their own story?
    1. What official documents and textbooks are shown in this video clip?
    2. What understanding does the viewer develop from the inclusion of these documents in the video clip?
  3. During the film clip we see South Sea Islanders involved in traditional performances, often in traditional costume. Why do you think this footage has been included?

Creative Composition Task (40 minutes):

Write a feature article about the opening of the South Sea Islander Museum. You might consider including information about who was there, the speeches that were made, what was on display, why the museum has been created and how the museum may contribute to a sense of identity and belonging.

Further Resources


Screen Australia’s Pacific Stories Learning Website

Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Film Australia’s ‘Pacfic Stories’

Queensland Government Action Plan – Australian South Sea Islander Community