Thursday, March 24, 2011

Aerial view of SOlomon IslandsImage via WikipediaThe past is the past and there is nothing we can do about it...

Is it right to condenn a country for its past sins over a century ago.? Or is it more correct to say the past is the past and we can't change that?

In recent times Vanuatu has condemned Australia for actions taken over a century ago by an earlier generation.The Vanuatu Justice Minister has called on Australia to recognise its history of  indentured forced labour, and to allow his people special work rights as reparation.

The newly appointed,  just a week ago,  Justice Minister, Ralph Regenvanu has used his new position to send a hard-hitting message to Canberra that the people of Vanuatu and their descendants in Australia want greater recognition of historical indentured labour, or in effect a form of slavery.

Known as blackbirding, about 60,000 Melanesians,  mostly young males, were recruited often through trickery and kidnapping to work on plantations in Queensland between 1863 and 1906.

The blackbirded islanders were often promised wages  never paid and held as indentured labourers past their promised termination date. Historians have recognised that the exodus of young men has adversely affected the cultural, linguistic and financial development in Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands in the Pacific.

More than 30,000 descendants still live in Australia. During the1990's Australia made efforts to recognise the Australian South Sea islanders as a separate cultural group, but little has been done to improve the links between the two groups or acknowledge the wrongs of history.

Mr Regenvanu believes islanders should be eligible for seasonal agricultural work programs in recognition of a special historical relationship.

He went on to say that many people in Vanuatu wonder why backpackers from England are allowed to come and go and do the work that Vanuatu people would like to do.

It is really a case of naivety and a lack of understanding the value of tourism - the backpackers from England have dollars in their pockets to spend in Australia anyway.

History has been cruel to the indigenous peoples everywhere, not just in the Pacific. The British were just as guilty as Australians of influencing Indians from India to come and work in the canefields of Fiji. The same could be said equally in other parts of the world the British followed in their quest for economic wealth. However it didn't work too well in New Zealand so the colonising powers resorted to misappropriating  land from the local Maori population. New Zealand has the Waitangi Tribunal to hear claims of misappropriation of land during the last century or so. Personally all claims before 1909 in New Zealand should be made to the British Government.  Australia would have a similar case of passing on historical claims in that direction as well. Vanuatu would be advised to do the same.
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