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 - Copyright Tweed Shire Council

Cane cutters in front of tent - taken at Cudgen on Geo. McCollum's farm. Standing - Mark Watego, George Slockee, Billy Logan. Sitting - Tommie Slockee, Johnny Mussing, Ben Long. Lying Down - Les Slockee, William Yettica, Bob Rotumah. 1928.

Tweed Regional Museum Collection. No: TH01-10

In 1875 William Julius purchased land at Cudgen and established a sugar cane plantation. He also built a mill to process his cane and employed a workforce made up largely of men from the South Sea Islands, also known derogatorily as Kanakas. The story of the Kanakas, and of the infamous practice of blackbirding, or Europeans kidnapping Islanders after luring them on board ships with offers of trade, is an integral part of the story of sugar farming in both Queensland and Northern New South Wales. Farmers required cheap labour to make their plantations economically viable and the solution in the 19th century was to import contract labour from the neighbouring South Pacific Islands, mainly from the Solomon and Vanuatu groups.

Mr. Julius employed South Sea Islanders who had completed their contracts on Queensland plantations, or who had escaped south over the New South Wales-Queensland border. When he sold his plantation in 1892 to John Robb, the estate was known as a safe and comparatively comfortable place for Islanders to live and work. The conditions on Queensland plantations were often harsh and labourers were treated poorly, but on the Robb Estate in 1903 the Islanders were paid wages of around £1 per week and were provided with food, housing and other amenities.

 - Copyright Tweed Shire Council

Cane Cutting Knife. When cutting on rocky country, a short handled cane knife was used so the cutter could see the rocks.

Tweed Regional Museum Collection No: MUS1996.42

Although their labour was needed, the South Sea Islanders were disadvantaged by the dominant attitudes and policies of the late 19th century that viewed white (and especially British) people as superior. These attitudes were seen in initiatives by the Government such as imposing an excise (a kind of tax) on all cane and then paying a bounty (a reward) to those growers who used only white labour on their farms. These attitudes were also expressed in the Government's White Australia Policy that was devised to keep non-Europeans of all descriptions out of Australia.

Did You Know?

 - Copyright Tweed Shire Council

Hand print from work contract for South Sea Islander c1900.

Tweed Regional Museum Collection. No: K1206

Between 1863 and 1904 more than 60,000 South Sea Islanders were taken to Queensland to work on sugar plantations, and approximately 350 are known to have arrived in the Tweed between 1874 and 1918. The Pacific Islanders Act of 1901 allowed Islanders who had married in Australia or had lived here for 20 years or more to stay. This meant that close to half of the Islanders were able to remain in the Tweed.

South Sea Islanders and cane farming - Further Reading

Sweet harvests

Sweet Harvests (DVD)

This film, made in 2011, explores the tenacity, camaraderie, humour and sheer hard work of the South Sea Islander and Indian populations who worked the banana farms and cane fields of the Tweed Region. Made with assistance from the NSW Migration Heritage Centre. Watch the video online here:

'Blackbirding' transcript, 13 September 2004

The story of one family’s return to the island community their ancestors were removed from in the late 1870s.
George Negus Tonight - ABC

'Kanakas' workers in Queensland Canefields 1899
Workers from the South Pacific were brought to Australia, often against their will, to work for British farmers in appalling conditions. After Federation, this practice was eventually stopped and the Kanakas deported, as they were seen as unfair competition to the white workforce.
Federation Films, Australian heritage Film Collection, National Film and Sound Archive.
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