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Video clip synopsis – Ni-Vanuatu writer and historian Anna Naupa discusses different views of South Sea Islander labour trade history.
Year of production - 2005
Duration - 3min 5sec
Tags - Australian History, blackbirding, civics and citizenship, culture, identity, oral history, Pacific region, social justice, Vanuatu, White Australia Policy, see all tags


Anna Naupa on Vanuatan heritage

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About the Video Clip


This interview with Anna Naupa was recorded for the Pacific Stories website produced in 2005.

Anna Naupa is a Ni-Vanuatu writer and historian.

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 Pacific Islanders were transported to Queensland, where they toiled to create the sugar plantations of the far north. Some of these islanders moved there willingly on the promise of income, whilst others were kidnapped from their island homes. Pacific Islanders were ‘recruited’ from various islands including the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu (then the New Hebrides) and the Loyalty Islands of New Caledonia. This human trafficking is euphemistically known as ‘blackbirding’.

Anna Naupa gives her view of how ni-Vanuatu interact with Queensland South Sea Islanders of Vanuatuan heritage who travel to Vanuatu to retrace their lineage. She explains: ‘Everyone in Vanuatu can give a story about an ancestor who’s been blackbirded or labour-recruited — choose your term.’

Naupa explains how the period when ni-Vanuatu were transported to North Queensland — either voluntarily or against their will — is still fresh in the minds of many in Vanuatu because of oral tradition. There are stories about the kidnapping of labour as well as stories about people who wanted to leave freely. She also speaks about there being both good and bad plantations in Queensland.

Australian South Sea Islander associations help members to connect with distant relations in Vanuatu and every year people travel to Vanuatu to explore their connections. People from Vanuatu visit Australia often as guests of Australian South Sea Islander associations, which promote opportunities for members to learn about their cultural heritage.

According to Naupa, people in Vanuatu are very welcoming to Australian South Sea Islanders who visit Vanuatu to reconnect with their heritage because they are often long lost relatives. She recounts an example from her own family of an eighty year old woman from Queensland who was trying to retrace her heritage before she died and who knew she was from the village of Erromango in Vanuatu.

‘She went down to Erromango trying to find people, and when she met my great
aunts, they cried and cried because she looked exactly like one of their dead sisters. And they had not known that she existed, and she was almost their age too. So you know it’s like piecing together a cultural puzzle for this region, and it’s very touching.’

*Ni-Vanuatu are people of Melanesian background who live in Vanuatu.

Classroom Activities

  1. Using the video clip write down information about the number and types of people from Vanuatu who were recruited as workers to the cane fields in Queensland and the period of time of this practice. What sources of evidence could be used to support this information?
  2. What does ‘oral tradition’ mean? How important do you think oral tradition is in our communities? How useful or reliable is oral evidence in the study of history?
  3. Using evidence from the video clip and other sources, develop your own personal view on the practice of using islander labour on cane fields in Queensland. Role-play ‘An 1900’s Inquiry into Blackbirding’ in your class, taking on roles such as a Queensland cane field owner, a ship owner, a missionary, an islander from Vanuatu, a government official from Queensland and any other people who you think might have had a view on the practice.
  4. What is ‘compensation’? Do you think compensation should be paid to descendants of people who were recruited to work on the Queensland cane fields?

Further Resources


Go to Pacific Stories Learning for Interactive Compass Map with facts about the Pacific region.

For interview transcripts, books and references for this Digital Resource go to Pacific Stories, choose Sugar Slaves, select INDEX, and go to MORE INFORMATION.