A Footscray filmmaker is delving into the dark past of Australia’s sugar trade.
An Australian-Solomon Islander, Amie Batalibasi’s latest film project, Blackbird, traces the neglected South Sea Islander history and explores elements of her personal heritage.
‘Blackbirding’ is the practice of tricking people then kidnapping them to work as labourers.
The Victorian College of the Arts’ masters student said many of today’s South Sea islanders were descendants of up 62,500 Western Pacific islanders brought to Australia between 1863 and 1904 to work under slave-like conditions on the sugar-cane fields of Queensland and northern New South Wales.
Batalibasi said ‘sugar slaves’ came from more than 80 islands, predominantly Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands but also New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati and Tuvalu.
Blackbird traces the story of Rosa and Kiko, two young Solomon Islanders taken in the 1870s to work in Mackay’s Pioneer Valley.
“By exploring the story and experiences of one South Sea Islander woman and her brother, the audience can begin to understand the journey of these characters,” Batalibasi said.
Rosa and Kiko are from the island of Malaita, from where three of Batalibasi’s own ancestors were taken, among more than 9000 Malaitans. The period drama will be filmed in Mackay over eight days in July.
Batalibasi’s masters project is being supported by a crowdfunding campaign.