- Wednesday 27 March 2019
2019 marks the 25th anniversary of the Commonwealth Government’s acknowledgment of Australian South Sea Islanders.
On September 7, 2000 the Australian South Sea Islanders were officially recognised as a distinct cultural group by the Queensland Government.
This recognition acknowledged the descendants of the first South Sea Islanders brought to Australia, and the injustices they suffered for over a century.
Australian South Sea Islanders are proud of their heritage and continue to maintain their identity and links back to their island homelands today.
In 1863, the schooner Don Juan arrived in Brisbane with the first of many South Sea Islanders to arrive in Australia.
Between 1863 and 1904 approximately 62,000 people were brought to Queensland and New South Wales from the Pacific Islands to work as labourers and domestic servants.
When land became available for selection on Buderim Mountain in 1869, Joseph Dixon and Tom Ridley took up land.
In 1873 Joseph Dixon married Alice Fielding, they first lived in a slab hut but in 1875 they built a house on what is now Dixon Road.
It was not long before Dixon and other growers realised that transporting the cane stalk for milling in Brisbane using William Pettigrew’s paddle steamers did not prove successful.
In 1876 the planning for a new mill in Buderim commenced. This mill began operations on October 17, 1876.
In mid 1877 Joseph Dixon, by then one of Buderim’s largest sugar entrepreneurs, brought his first group of twenty-five South Sea Islanders to work on his Canambie Plantation to cope with the increased work load of the expanding sugar industry.
The South Sea Islanders did most of the hard work in the canefields and banana plantations – weeding, planting and harvesting as well as clearing new land. Legal regulations at the time prevented them from working in the mill.
His new workers came by ship from Brisbane with others coming from Maryborough, then walking to Buderim accompanied by Dixon.
Many of the South Sea Islanders employed on Buderim Mountain came from Tanna Island in Vanuatu and from the Loyalty Islands.
The South Sea Islanders were a very strong influence on Joseph Dixon’s life and they worked hard in the hot Queensland sun.
Joseph Dixon recognised the need for a place of worship, so he built a new Kanaka School on his land.
It was used for educational purposes as well as for conducting religious pursuits. Music and playing in the band was also greatly enjoyed.
By the mid-1880s sugar prices had fallen and the sugar mill closed in 1896.
Dixon commenced diversification by developing his selection at Flaxton for strawberry farming and orchards, as well as establishing grass paddocks for his jersey herds.
The South Sea Islanders found work with other farmers in the area or moved further afield to find work.
In 1901 Sir Samuel Griffith declared all South Sea Islanders emancipated under the Pacific Island Labourers Act.
Many returned to their native homes, sometimes becoming separated from partners and children who remained in Australia.
After December 1906 more than 3600 of the Islanders were repatriated.
Many South Sea Islanders remained in Australia acquiring land in their own right, having families and making Australia their home.
One such person, was George Eggmolesse.
He worked in Bundaberg before moving to Perwillowen to work for a local farmer, before finally deciding to lease land at Image Flat. He cleared the land and started to grow cane.
George Eggmolesse supplied the Moreton Central Sugar Mill for more than five years until in 1912 Federal legislation was passed under the Leasing of Land for Aliens Act.
Then in 1913, the Sugar Cultivation Act (2) completely forbade the South Sea Islanders from taking any part in the sugar industry.
We can only endeavour to appreciate the trauma and distress these acts must have caused.
George, not to be denied, cleared land on the hill slopes on the north side of Nambour and grew bananas.
The Eggmolesse family is well known and respected, and George Jnr is very highly regarded. A portrait of him hangs in the community Hall. He donated part of the land he owned to the Maroochy Shire Council, which is now the Eggmolesse Environmental Park in Buderim.
Today, not only in our local community, but state wide, South Sea Islanders and their descendants are recognised for having played a significant role in the sugar industry, as well as having made many more contributions to the development of Queensland.
They contributed to the development of farming and grazing, the maritime industry, pearling, mining, railways and domestic services.
Many Australian South Sea Islanders are achieving and leading the way in areas including trade, academia, nursing, teaching, politics, music, art and sport.
Many descendants want to learn and teach their children about who they are, and where their ancestors came from in the Pacific.
In that quest some will journey back to the home islands of their ancestors. The Australian South Sea Islanders have cut a path to freedom with strength and resilience.
Thanks to Sunshine Coast Council’s Heritage Library Officers for the words and Picture Sunshine Coast for the images.
Hero Image: William, Lizzie and Arthur Muckan in front of their residence at Buderim, ca 1905
Image 1: Joseph Chapman Dixon with South Sea Islanders clearing land for fruit growing and dairy paddocks on his property at Flaxton, ca 1900
Image 2: South Sea Islanders cutting cane, Buderim Mountain, ca 1882
Image 3: 'Chermside', the residence of Joseph C. Dixon built on his property at Flaxton, ca 1908.
Image 4: Dixon's Sugar Mill, Mill Road Buderim, ca 1890.
Image 5: Family members gathered to celebrate the Golden Wedding Anniversary of Joesph C. Dixon and his wife Alice at Flaxton, 1923
Image 6: Joseph and Alice Dixon's residence 'Canambie', in Dixon Road, Buderim, ca 1880
Image 7: Joseph Dixon's sugar mill at Buderim, ca 1892