The Call for Recognition of the Australian South Sea Islander Peoples: A Human Rights issue for a 'Forgotten People'

Co-presented with Macleay Museum, Australian South Sea Islanders Port Jackson and Australian Association for Pacific Studies (AAPS)

20 August

2013 marks 150 years since the first of 55,000 Pacific Islander labourer's (known as Australian South Sea Islanders or ‘ASSI’) were brought to Australia between 1863-1901, partly by kidnapping and in slave-like conditions to develop the sugar cane, pastoral and maritime industries. In 1901 the new Federal Parliament passed an Act to deport the entire community as part of the White Australian Policy, reducing their numbers from 10,000 to just over 1,000, one of the cruelest acts in Australian history. The Islander community was devastated but the few who were able to remain gradually built up again over generations.

Over the past 20 years numerous community members have been involved in “The call for recognition” – a community initiated movement seeking federal government recognition of this community as a disadvantaged ethnic identity within Australia. Diligent political lobbying by the descendants of these people begun by Faith Bandler AO in the 1970s, has created a momentum among state and federal government representatives for proper recognition and assistance of the Australian South Sea Islander community. They gained the support of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC, 1992) and in 1994 HEROC findings bought about 1994 Commonwealth recognition as a disadvantaged ethnic group. Despite this, little has changed over the last twenty years although ASSI's suffer the same disadvantages as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and remain marginalised, facing the ongoing consequences of cultural kidnapping, identity, loss of family and severe lack of government services in education and well-being. We invite you to discuss this pertinent issue with a panel of representatives from current governments, historians and ASSI representatives to outline the present situation and plans that are in development for formal ongoing assistance to Australian South Sea Islander peoples.

The forum will be opened by ASSI.PJ patron Mrs Bonita Mabo AO.

Bonita Mabo


Mrs Bonita Mabo supported Eddie Mabo's fight for native title to be recognised on Murray Island, but since his death in 1992 Mrs Bonita Mabo has been a leading voice in support of the rights of the South Sea Islanders in Australia.





Emelda Davis


Emelda Davis (Moderator)
Emelda is the founding member of the Australian South Sea Islanders (Port Jackson) (ASSI PJ) who were nominated the interim national representative body for ASSI's, based in Sydney, NSW guided by a national steering committee. Emelda has worked consistently for Federal, State Government and community organisations delivering innovative community development initiatives while diligently resourcing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, South Sea Islander and broader community practitioners to deliver projects on a number of national and international platforms producing film, television, sports, events management, music and entertainment projects for grass roots, corporate and private sectors.

Alex Greenwich


The Hon. Alex Greenwich MP
Alex Greenwich is the member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly seat of Sydney and is also a small business owner and a nationally recognized community activist. Over the past year Alex has been working with Australian South Sea Islanders Port Jackson on delivering a motion to be tabled in the NSW parliament to formally recognize the NSW Australian South Sea Islander community.


Shireen Mallamoo


Shireen Mallamoo
Shireen was born in Plantation Creek, near Ayr, in North Queensland and is a founding member of the Australian South Sea Islanders (Port Jackson), Sydney. She has held many leadership positions in Aboriginal Affairs and has been a lifelong campaigner for the rights of her people. Shireen has extensive experience in the management of non-government services for the Aboriginal community including the Aboriginal Legal Service, the Aboriginal Media Association and the Aboriginal Medical Service in Townsville, and currently sits on the Justice Health Board and has done for some years now. Shireen is also involved with the Aboriginal Medical Service in Redfern, Bobbi Sykes Foundation and the AH & MRC Ethics Committee. As a representative of Australian Aboriginal people, she has twice travelled to Africa (Durban 2001 and 2006) to attend conferences on racism. As an accomplished artist, Shireen is renowned for her eclectic works that depict her cultural heritage as a formidable women.

Jeff McMullen


Jeff McMullen
Jeff McMullen has been a foreign correspondent for Australian Broadcasting Corporation, reporter for Four Corners andSixty Minutes, interviewer and anchor of the 33 part issue series on ABC Television, Difference of Opinion and host of televised forums on the National Indigenous Television Network. Throughout his professional life Jeff McMullen has written, filmed and campaigned around the world to improve health, education and human rights in many nations, but particularly for Indigenous people.

Clive Moore


Professor Clive Moore
Professor Moore is currently Professor of Pacific and Australian History and Head of the School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics at the University of Queensland. Since the 1970s he has been involved in researching the history of Australian South Sea Islanders. Professor Moore has been a member of the Board of the Journal of Pacific History since 1998. In 1999 he headed the Queensland team for the National Archives Founding Documents Webpage. During 2000-01 he served on a Panel of Enquiry into the restructure of the University of PNG and authored a UNESCO report on higher distance education in PNG. In 2005 he was awarded a Cross of Solomon Islands for his work on Solomon Islands history and has recently published a digital encyclopedia of Solomon Islands.

Paula Viti


Paula Viti
Paula Viti resides in Kanaka Town Rockhampton Queensland but is originally from Mackay and works on a number of community development initiatives in ATSI and ASSI communities. Paula is advocating for dual Citizenship to be implemented as apart of a revived national action plan to enable sustained family reconnection with families in the Islands and Australia.

Associate Professor Gracelyn Smallwood


Professor Gracelyn Smallwood - AO, MSc, RN
Professor Gracelyn Smallwood is a Vanuatu descendant and Birri-gubba, an elder of the Birri people in Townsville. Gracelyn was awarded Queensland Aboriginal of the Year in 1986; an Order of Australia medal in 1992 for service to public health, particularly HIV-AIDS education; and in 1994 was the first woman, Indigenous person and non-paediatrician to receive the Henry Kemp Memorial Award at the International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect. She has lectured at Thursday Island, the University of Honolulu, and participated as a speaker at a WHO conference in public health. She currently works at the Cleveland Youth Detention Centre as nurse and mentor, and at Townsville Hospital as a nurse and midwife. She is a Associate Professor and Indigenous Advisor to the Vice-Chancellor at James Cook University.