Kidnapped, taken away from their loved ones and forced into back-breaking labour: The brutal reality of life as a Kanaka slave – but Scott Morrison claims ‘there was no slavery in Australia’
- Scott Morrison provoked outrage by claiming Australia never had slaves
- South Pacific Islanders were kidnapped from their homes and forced to work
- Known as Kanakas, they were brutally brought to Queensland for 50 years
- The workers were either forced to leave their homes or lied to about a better life
- It comes amid a global outcry about treatment of black and Indigenous people
Tens of thousands of Pacific Islander slaves were ripped from their families and forced into back-breaking labour on sugar farms across Australia, in direct opposition to controversial remarks made by Scott Morrison.
The prime minister sparked outrage on Thursday by claiming there was no slavery in Australia, despite historians widely documenting the fate of the slaves – called Kanakas.
Edmund Barton, Australia’s first prime minister, even admitted in a speech in 1901 that Kanaka people lived in slavery.
Speaking during the second reading of Pacific Islands Labourers Bill on October 2 1901, he said: ‘The traffic, we say, is bad, both for the Kanaka and for the white man. It is bad for the Kanaka … because, in some aspects, it must be slavery.’
Kanaka people are seen at the Dillybar settlement near Nambour (pictured) in the late 19th century, with islanders being forced to Australia between 1847 and 1906
South Pacific islander workers, known as Kanakas, are seen on a sugar plantation in Cairns (pictured) around 1890
Confronting pictures also show Aboriginal people forced to wear neck chains in the late 19th century, with some taken as recently as 1930 – less than 100 years ago.
Kanaka, which means ‘person’ or ‘man’ in Hawaiian, was the name given to South Pacific Islander people who worked on sugar plantations, cattle stations or as servants in towns.
They were first introduced into Queensland in 1847 to work on cotton plantations, and were later brought in as cheap labour for the sugar industry.
By 1900, more than 60,000 Islanders had been forced from their homes and taken to Australia.
They were forced by colonialists to work on farms, a practice known as ‘blackbirding’, and were often told lies about the prospect of a better life.
South Sea islanders arriving in Bundaberg by ship (pictured) in 1893 where they were put to back-breaking work on plantations
Pacific Islanders are seen in cramped conditions aboard a boat as they were brought to Australia in 1890 (pictured)
Emelda Davis, president of the Australian South Sea Islanders, wrote in a 2017 article for The Conversation: ‘The treatment of the Islanders was atrocious, exploitative and akin to slavery.
‘When plantation owners went bankrupt, the workers were transferred as an asset with the sold property.’
Blackbirding was the enslaving, often by force and deception, of South Pacific Islanders on cotton and sugar plantations in Queensland, and was especially prevalent between 1847 and 1904.
The workers were brought across often using force or deception, with promises of fair earnings and living.
WHO WERE THE KANAKA SLAVES?
Kanaka was the name given to kidnapped South Pacific Islander workers forced into back-breaking work in Queensland.
They either worked on sugar plantations, cotton fields, cattle stations or as servants.
The Islanders were first introduced into Queensland in 1847.
By 1900 more than 60,000 Islanders had been recruited in a manner that often amounted to kidnapping.
The labourers were generally abused and reduced to ‘near-slave status’ – because of their low pay, poor conditions and back-breaking work.
Ripping the Islanders from their home was known as blackbirding.
Blackbirding involves the coercion of people through deception and/or kidnapping to work as unpaid or poorly paid labourers in countries distant to their native land.
It died out only in 1904 as a result of a law, enacted in 1901 by the Australian commonwealth, calling for the deportation of all Kanakas after 1906.
In an interview on Sydney radio 2GB on Thursday, the prime minister was asked whether statues of Captain James Cook should be removed in response to a movement in the UK to topple monuments to slave traders.
He rejected the idea and said: ‘It was a pretty brutal place, but there was no slavery in Australia.’
Thousands of activists have pointed out that although slavery was never legal Down Under, convicts, Indigenous Australians and Pacific Islanders were all victims of forced labour.
Mr Morrison’s critics said he should ‘read a book’ and shared images of chained-up Aboriginal people from a Western Australia state library collection which resurfaced earlier this year.
Shocking images show Aboriginal people in chains in the 19th century (pictured outside Roebourne Gaol in 1896)
The images show Aboriginal prisoners – many of whom were accused of petty crimes such as killing cattle – shackled with heavy chains around their necks, guarded by white men armed with rifles.
Sometimes police were paid per Indigenous prisoner they caught and brought them into jail using chains.
Some prisoners were put to work on boats while others were forced to lay railways.
Even Aboriginal people not accused of crimes were illegally used as unpaid labour until the 1970s, particularly in the agricultural industry, with only rations and a bed to show for their toil.
Last year the Queensland government agreed to pay 10,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people a total of $190 million for wages unpaid between 1939 and 1972.
Police were paid per indigenous prisoner and cruelly brought them into jail using chains where they were forced to work (pictured, captured Aboriginal people in 1890)
Another image shows a white man dressed in shirt and trousers holding a chain connected to two elderly Indigenous prisoners (pictured near Wyndham in 1930)
Before then, convicts shipped to Australia from Ireland and the UK were treated as slave labor.
They were subject to ‘assigned service’ where they were leased out to rich landowners to use as a cheap workforce.
Author and historian Bruce Pascoe slammed the prime minister’s comments.
He wrote: ‘When you capture people, and put chains around their necks, and make them walk 300km and then set them to work on cattle stations, what’s that called?’
‘That’s what happened in Western Australia and in the [Northern] Territory and in Queensland.
Aboriginal prisoners are seen forced to wear connecting neck chains near Wyndham in 1930 (pictured)
‘It doesn’t matter what you call it. It’s brutality and I think a lot of Australia are in denial about the real history of the country.’
Shadow minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney said: ‘The prime minister’s comments demonstrate a need for a greater understanding and awareness of our nation’s history.
‘We cannot achieve meaningful progress on matters such as Reconciliation if, as a nation, we are not aware of the historical context of the challenges we face in the present.
‘One of the crucial elements of the Uluru Statement was a national process of truth-telling.’
A chilling image shows one lonely Aboriginal man (pictured) standing in chains as he leans against a tree in 1895