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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 - family life, heritage, identity, inequality, South Sea Islanders, Vanuatu, 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.

Curriculum Focus


Students explore how and why civic and political rights, government policies and national identity have changed over time in Australia.

Students examine the development of multiculturalism in Australia and explore ways in which government policies, including immigration and Aboriginal policies have changed over time.

Students discuss changes in Australian citizenship and examine why people become Australian citizens.

Students investigate people, movements and events that have enhanced civil and political rights for specific groups of Australians.

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

  1. Students investigate the historical background to the use of Pacific Islander workers on canefields in Queensland in the nineteenth century. Using the video clip and other sources, what civil and political rights did these workers have? What were the reasons put forward about why they were brought to Australia from islands in the South Pacific region? Under what policies and laws are people today allowed to enter Australia as workers today?
  2. Ask students to write their understandings of the following words – culture, identity, self, heritage, kinship, family, racial discrimination, human rights. Then look up the meaning of the words in a dictionary. Finally investigate how the words are used in the video clip.
  3. Are Monica and Joe Leo citizens of Australia? How do you become a citizen of Australia? Can you be refused a request to become an Australian citizen? Why did the Leo family want to visit Vanuatu? (locate Vanuatu on map) Is it possible to be an Vanuatu/Australian? Investigate the conditions of Australian citizenship by attending a citizenship ceremony, obtaining information about the conditions of obtaining citizenship, arranging for a comunity person who conducts citizenship ceremonies to visit the class or talking with someone who has recently obtained Australian citizenship.
  4. Research the Joskeleigh South Sea Islander Museum in Rockhampton.
    1. What function does the Joskeleigh South Sea Islander Museum in Rockhampton play in the life of the Leos and other Australian South Sea Islanders?
    2. Ask students to consider a range of issues about citizenship in Australia.
    3. If you are born in Australia are you automatically an Australian citizen?
    4. How can you become an Australian citizen?
    5. Can your Australian citizenship be taken away from you?
    6. For what reasions are immigrants alowed to be become Australian citizens?
    7. In small groups, ask students about the value of having immigrants agree to a pledge/sign an agreement before they become citizens of Australia. Investigate the current debate about the changing requirements of becoming an Australian citizen. Ask students to create a suitable pledge.

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.