FACING INJUSTICE: Phyllis Corowa at her home in Chinderah.
FACING INJUSTICE: Phyllis Corowa at her home in Chinderah. John Gass

Australia's slave trade shame

PHYLLIS Corowa's father and grandmother were taken from Vanuatu to work on a Queensland sugar plantation during a drive to gain cheap labour between 1863 and 1904.

Today, the 92 year-old sits in the shade at her Chinderah home.

She suffers dementia now, but in her younger days she spoke out about the injustice done to her people.

She lives not far from the burial ground historically significant as the last resting place of many South Sea Islanders who were brought to the east coast of Australia.

On the Tweed, the men cleared land at Duranbah,Bungalora, Tumbulgum, Eungella, Terranora and other areas and carried outdrainage works in the sugarcane areas of Cudgen and Chinderah.

The recruitment operations from the islands were known as 'black birding' and kidnapping was common during the early years of these labour drives.

She may not have a "voice" now, but at the pacific Women's Conference in 1976, she spoke out about the injustice.

"I represent a minority of South Sea Island people, descendants of the people who were brought to Australia as slaves during the period between 1860's and 1906 by the Queensland government," she said.

" They worked for sugar cane farmers to establish the sugar industry in Queensland.

" We are a dispossesed people.

"We will never attain the status that the island women here today are striving for.

"You speak of your culture and extended family kinship.

"Our ancestors were taken from their families at the ages of 14 years onwards.

"Although we still retain the kinship, we have lost our culture."

In 2008, Tweed's South Sea Islander community were presented with two South Sea Islander flags, donated by Tweed Shire Council.

The flags were handed by the council's Aboriginal Liaison Officer Lesley Mye at the Cudgen Burial Ground at Chinderah, which is an important meeting place for the 150-strong local South Sea Islander community.

The burial ground is historically significant as the last resting place of many South Sea Islanders.

Aunty Phyllis Corowa joined many second, third and fourth generation South Sea Islanders from the Tweed to accept the flags.



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