A SMALL group of men from Vanuatu with Aboriginal ancestry have travelled to Australia on a mission to reconnect with their long lost family, and to push for better recognition of their Australian ties.
Thousands of people with Indigenous Australian ancestry are believed to be living in Vanuatu. Many are the descendants of blackbirded islanders went back to Vanuatu at the turn of the 20th century, in line with the White Australia Policy.
Between 1863 and 1904, more than 62,000 Pacific Islanders were taken to Australia — often against their will, or on false pretences — to work on Queensland’s cotton and sugar plantations.
But Emelda Davis, chairwoman of the Australian South Sea Islanders Port Jackson chapter, said it wasn’t just Pacific Islanders who were kicked out of Australia.
She said there were stories of islander workers taking in orphaned Indigenous Australian children, as well as stories of workers marrying and establishing families with Indigenous Australians.
“Then when the White Australia Policy came in, the mass deportation did take a lot of those Indigenous families back to the islands,” she said.
“It’s always something that was known, but it’s quite interesting that it’s being promoted or brought to the attention of the Australian Government now.”
He and his brother, Chief Richard David Fandanumata, a member of Vanuatu’s influential National Council of Chiefs, were in Adelaide this week for a forum on the topic hosted by the University of South Australia.
Both brothers have Aboriginal ancestry through their mother, and have been tracking others down around Vanuatu.
“We started receiving stories from all around the islands, I came here with some figures that put them up to over 4000,” Mr Abel said.
Chief Richard said they are not necessarily seeking Australian citizenship, but they do want to be recognised.
“Plenty of us, when we look at our history, our bloodlines, our family tree, they call us Australians,” he said.
“They connect us. And we want to become part of the family. Those of us in Vanuatu want to be connected with our family in Australia.”
The brothers are trying to track down their Australian family, the majority of whom are believed to be from the Tweed Heads region of New South Wales.
One of the descendants claims many people with Aboriginal ancestry experience discrimination back in Vanuatu, and don’t have equal access to customary land or education
Pakoa Rudy Rolland, a police officer on Tongariki Island, told The Australian newspaper last week that hundreds of people with Indigenous Australian heritage in his community were living as second-class citizens.
But Mr Abel said while he agreed there was ‘a history’ of issues with land rights, many descendants of Indigenous Australians in Vanuatu have had successful careers.
He said he did not want the comments to overshadow their trip.
“There’s a Lord Mayor, even the person who’s giving this information is a police officer, some of them were teachers. I believe they are respected,” he said.