110 unmarked graves of blackbirded South Sea Islanders found in Mackay, AustraliaPosted: June 17, 2016
A project to locate the graves of blackbirded South Sea Islanders buried in Mackay, Queensland has uncovered more than 110 graves in a cemetery in the town, reports Australia’s ABC News.
Buried over 100 years ago, the graves were located in the ‘heathen’ section of the cemetery using old council records and a metal detector to find the steel pegs outlining each grave.
The project has not been able to identify any of the people in the graves yet.
Islanders from Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea were brought to Queensland to cut sugar cane in the late 19th century, sometimes against their will. Many of these ‘blackbirded’ people converted to Christianity while in Australia.
The project is led by Elton Backo, himself a descendent of blackbirded South Sea Islanders brought to Australia in 1887.
“This project for me, and I was talking to my wife as well about it, and when we saw how many were there she just nearly started crying because that’s gone, that’s our history gone,” says Backo.
“Because they came out and died here they never returned home, and when you go back to the Islands, because I’ve been back about seven times, you get people over there ‘have you seen this person, or that person’ but they’re probably here in the ground here — that’s the sad part of it”, he says.
Another South Sea Islander descendant volunteer on the project, Starrett Vea Vea, says the location of the graves is significant because “these are the ones that are lost to everyone; they’re lost to the islands where they came from and they’re lost to us here because there’s no connection in-between”.
The South Sea Islander Mackay Cemetery Project was organised by the Mackay and District Australian South Sea Islander Association and the Mackay Regional Council.
For the full story, visit the ABC News website.