Between 1515 and the mid-nineteenth century, more than 12 million Africans were forcibly transported across the Atlantic to work as slaves. On their trip to the Americas, two million enslaved men, women, and children died.
Australian South Sea Islander people, the descendants of men, women, and children known as “sugar slaves,” were abducted from the Pacific islands and forced to work in Australia.
According to history, there was already an anti-slavery movement in Britain throughout Australia’s colonization. The British Parliament prohibited the Atlantic slave trade in 1807, and the Slavery Abolition Act was passed in 1833. As a result, there was to be no slave trade in Australia, but scholars and historians recently revealed that the treatment of Pacific Islander and First Nations peoples constituted essentially slavery. In the past, Australian government officials have attempted to downplay this.
True, Australia was not a “slave state” in the way of the American South, but “employers exerted a high degree of control over ‘their’ Aboriginal people who were, in certain cases, purchased and sold like chattels,” writes Stephen Gray in the Australian Indigenous Law Review.
“Employers exerted a type of ‘legal compulsion’ over their workers in a manner consistent with the legal meaning of slavery,” he continues.
Indeed, in the 1800s, 60,000 individuals from 80 Melanesian islands, including Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, were brought to Australia to work in the agriculture, sugar, and maritime industries. After being kidnapped or forced to go, the majority of them were transported there by boat. Their salaries were less than one-third of those of other workers, but the inhumane practice was permitted by Queensland regulations from the 1860s to 1904. South Sea Islanders worked as seamen and deckhands at Australia’s many ports. Several legislators grew wealthy as a result of this behavior.
It was shocking recently when Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on the radio that “there was no slavery in Australia.” Meanwhile, slavery existed in Australia until the 1950s.
Officials chose the terms indenture, kidnapping, and blackbirding to describe the situation. However, victims or Australian South Sea Islanders state that those labels do not adequately depict what they endured at the hands of slave traders and would want to be referred to as Sugar Slaves.
According to history, Aboriginal slaves laboring on sugar plantations in Australia were supposed to be released when the British Empire abolished slavery in 1833. The Australians, on the other hand, refused and renamed their slaves “indentured servants.” They were still used for another 100 years as a result of this.
The British Empire ultimately pushed Australia to release its slaves in 1901. Nonetheless, some Australian slave dealers despised the thought, so they threw the enslaved overboard. They drowned their slaves rather than release them.
Approximately 15,000 South Sea Islanders perished from prevalent diseases in Australia while enslaved. Shireen, the granddaughter of a Sugar Slave kidnapped from the Vanuatu island of Tongoa, was quoted on theconversation.com:
Slavery affects people of color all around the world, and Australia’s version is predicated on the theft of our African brothers and sisters across the Atlantic. In Australia, they try to conceal the truth by incorporating political policy into the legal structure known as “indentured labor.” Our warriors were paid a pittance for their efforts and committed to the completion of an unknown three-year contract with no knowledge of what they were getting themselves into, let alone knowing whether they would live or die.