Call to recognise South Sea Islanders

THE plight of South Sea Islanders, whose blood and sweat helped grow the North Coast's banana and sugar cane industries, has been marked in NSW Parliament.

In a rare show of unity, North Coast Minister Don Page joined Sydney Independent MP Alex Greenwich in calling for the house to recognise August 25 as Australian South Sea Islander Recognition Day.

Speaking to the motion, which also calls on the Federal Government to recognise the contribution Islanders made to Australia, Mr Page said many of the 60,000 Melanesians kidnapped or lured to the country 150 years ago, were sent down the Tweed River.

From there, they worked on the cane fields in the Brunswick Valley and Cudgen where they were integral in developing the sugar, banana and timber industries as well as clearing land in what is now rich dairy country.

Up to 30% of the young men, aged between their teens and early 30s, died from diseases common to the European community.

They worked in harsh conditions for low pay rates, set under the White Australia Policy.

The history of the Islanders is also evident in regional namesakes like Wategos Beach at Byron Bay, but Mr Page said even more needed to be done to "give people a better understanding of this dark chapter in our history".

"I have no doubt that there has been insufficient recognition of the plight and circumstances of South Sea Islanders in Australia...," Mr Page said

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