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ATA | VĀSA Reflections of an Ocean - Blackbird

Blackbird - A story inspired by the little-known history of Australia’s sugar slaves.

Friday 27 September, 6.30pm Director: Amie Batalibasi Producer:  Amie Batalibasi / John Harvey Language:  English & Solomon Islands Pijin with subtitles Duration: 13 minutes  Country: Australia (2016)

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Blackbird is a short narrative drama by Australian Solomon Islander filmmaker, Amie Batalibasi.  The film shed light on a little-known part of history – Australia’s sugar slaves.  Set in the late 1800’s, it follows the story of Solomon Islander siblings, Kiko and Rosa, who are kidnapped from their Pacific Island home and forced to work on a sugar cane plantation in Queensland.

In a world where exploitation of Pacific Islanders for cheap labour is legislated and conditions for islanders are akin to slavery, Rosa struggles to keep an eye on her spirited young brother as he journeys into adulthood.  Shot entirely on location and in collaboration with communities in Mackay, Queensland – where these historical events took place – Blackbird brings Australia’s ‘blackbirding’ era to life.  Spoken in Solomon Islands Pijin and augmented with traditional Solomon lullabies, elements of Island culture, the film immerses audiences in a little-known part of Australian history.

Some 60,000 Pacific Islanders like Kiko and Rosa were brought to Australia, often by force and kidnapping, between 1863 and 1904 to work on sugar cane farms of Queensland.  Initially no laws or labour contracts existed to protect them, and they were subject to extreme forms of exploitation by their employers.  Later a law was passed to regulate labour trafficking into Queensland and a system of indentured (contracted) labour was introduced.  Under this system, Islanders signed three year contracts and were paid a meagre wage, but even under this system Islanders continued to be exploited. 

(Historical note based on www.humanrights.gov.au/erace-archives-australian-south-sea-islanders)

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