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Blackbirding a grave concern

Jennifer Pearson puts the light on a headstone at Chinderah.
Jennifer Pearson puts the light on a headstone at Chinderah. John Gass

THE Chinderah Cemetery is on the top ten list of haunted sites in Australia.

It's small wonder when you see the section afforded to a very special breed of people out the front of the Chinderah Golf Club.

Are haunted places not hounded by the spirits of tortured souls?

The little churchyard is really quaint, really old and really perfect for the setting of a ghost movie.

More importantly it tells a sad tale; a story of slavery, cruelty and hardship borne on the shoulders of a beautiful race of people, some as young as 12 years old.

"It's a truly sad story," said former Tweed Shire councillor Jennifer Pearson who was instrumental in passing a motion to construct a memorial at Chinderah to the workers.

The story of the Kanakas is a sad chapter in Australian history dating back to 1847.

"Blackbirded" from their homes in the Solomon Islands and the New Hebrides or brought to the country by deception, they were exploited as cheap labour in the sugar cane industry and on the cotton fields of Queensland and Northern New South Wales.

It was Australians who eventually rebelled against the employment of Kanakas, not out of human sympathy but fearing that the South Sea Islanders posed a threat to their standard of living.

Those "slaves" were starting to make it good and maybe a threat to their jobs.

Under the government's Indenture Scheme, the Kanakas had been brought to Australia against their wishes, then by an act passed in 1901 they were largely forcefully repatriated.

Some were permitted to stay on after 1906, the year fixed for their departure.

Many of these moved southward to the northern part of NSW, settling as free men and women on the Tweed River at Chinderah.

Hard workers and good farmers, they began growing their own sugar cane.

Some of them are buried in this smallest of cemeteries, their original burial place being part of an estate owned by the undertaker.

On his death his heirs sold the property, including the cemetery, to clear the land.

The headstones were hauled out of the ground with chains, many of the monuments being broken in the process.

The stones were then transferred to the small patch where they now stand.

The actual graves were left unidentified.

Topics:  blackbirding, cemetery, ghost, grave, haunted


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