The exhibition ‘Sugar’ forms part of the Cultural Centre’s ‘Memories from a Forgotten People: 150 Years of Australian South Sea Islander Contributions to Queensland’, a program of exhibitions, workshops, discussions, tours and music taking place between June and November 2013.
Australian descendants of the South Sea Islanders brought to Queensland 150 years ago to work on the state’s sugar and cotton farms have many stories to tell. These stories relate the community’s history, culture and future aspirations, and are told as visual and oral narratives as well as through music and performance. Sugar, and the significant contributions that South Sea Islanders made to the successful development of the industry in Queensland, remains one of the most important of these stories. The state’s early sugar industry was reliant on the cheap labour provided by Islanders recruited — or kidnapped — from across Melanesia between 1863 and 1904. For many of the descendants of the 1654 Islanders who were allowed to stay in Australia after 1901 (when the newly formed Australian federation began deporting Pacific workers), the coastal ports and sugar towns of northern Queensland became home.1 Images and tales relating to these landscapes and histories are maintained in contemporary life and are vital to the Australian South Sea Islander community’s ongoing exploration of identity and place.
These stories also lie at the heart of the exhibition ‘Sugar’. Bringing historical photographs from the Gallery and State Library of Queensland collections together with interviews, music and works by contemporary artists, ‘Sugar’ engages with the contributions made to this industry by South Sea Islanders and their descendants, by Chinese–Australian families and by European settler communities. Centrally placed within the exhibition is an installation of stories and songs recorded by members of the Australian South Sea Islander community in Queensland. Through the arts of oratory, music and performance, they provide a glimpse of the Australian South Sea Islander experience today, extending our understanding of the historical photographs that document the birth of the sugar industry and the role South Sea Islanders played in it.
‘Sugar’ opens at QAG on Saturday and is on display until 7 October 2013.
1. Pacific workers were deported under various pieces of Commonwealth legislation including the 1901 Pacific Island Labourers Act. This act prefaced the controversial White Australia Policy.