Image Pacific Islander women planting sugar cane at Bingera, c1897

TLF ID R8182

This black-and-white photograph shows several indentured Pacific Islander women planting sugar-cane stalks, or setts, in freshly made furrows in a large field at Bingera near Bundaberg, Queensland. The women, dressed in Western-style clothes, are following directly behind a horsedrawn plough that is worked by indentured Islander men. A European overseer stands by, supervising the work.



Educational details

Educational value
  • Recruiting women such as those seen in the photograph to work in Qld as indentured labourers was unusual in the Pacific Islander 'trade' of the late 19th century. The majority of Islanders recruited were young men and boys, who were officially contracted to work for a three-year period before being returned home. The Pacific Islander trade was said to be fundamentally similar to slave labour in that it exploited one race for the profit of another.
  • The number of women recruited was never more than 9 per cent of the Islander total at any one time because the Qld Government had insisted that female recruits must be accompanied by their husbands and had obtained their chief's consent. This ruling protected the families of unmarried women who would lose their bride-price and suffer economic disadvantage if they were recruited from the Islands before marriage.
  • It is estimated that between 1863 and 1904 up to 62,500 Pacific Islanders, mainly men and boys, were brought to Qld or northern New South Wales. Initially around 10,500 were recruited illegally, many kidnapped. Later many Islanders volunteered, understanding indentured conditions better and having the protection of legislation. They came from 80 western Pacific islands, the majority from the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) and the Solomons.
  • Many Pacific Islanders working in the cane fields suffered severe exploitation as their living and working conditions in Qld varied according to the consideration of 'masters' and overseers. Their masters had unlimited control over them: wages were meagre, occupations were limited and menial, allotted duties could not be refused and were arduous, and service was fixed under one master. As bonded workers they had few rights. Death rates were high.
  • The cane field where these women are shown working was probably under the direct or indirect control of one of the large wealthy corporations that dominated the northern sugar industry. A boom in cane cultivation in coastal northern Qld from the mid-1880s attracted southern capital and advanced technology, and the Victorian Colonial Sugar Refining Company established three large mills in northern Qld, the largest being the Victoria on the Herbert River.
  • The practice of importing overseas labour virtually stopped after Federation. In 1901 the Pacific Island Labourers Act was passed, stating that recruitment would cease after 1903. The Australian Government had the power to deport any Pacific Islander after 1906. Between 1904 and 1908 the number of Islanders deported was 7,068. In 1902 Pacific Islanders produced 85.5 per cent of Qld sugar, but by 1908 white labour produced 87.9 per cent.
Year level

5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10

Learning area
  • History
Strand
  • History/Historical knowledge and understanding

    Other details

    Contributors
    • Publisher
    • Date of contribution: 06 Sep 2013
    • Organisation: Education Services Australia
    • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
    • URL: http://www.esa.edu.au
    • Copyright holder
    • Organisation: State Library of Queensland
    • Address: Brisbane QLD 4000 Australia
    • Remarks: Reproduced courtesy of State Library of Queensland
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    • © Education Services Australia Ltd and State Library of Queensland, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements