2012 – In the Queensland town of Bundaberg, a name synonymous with sugar and rum, an elderly ni-Vanuatu man stands on stage at the local civic centre and makes a tearful apology.
He is Richard David Fandunamata, a Paramount Chief from Tongoa in the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. He hands a ceremonial club to a local Aboriginal elder, Jason Browne. The club is symbolic of the murders his grandfather was forced to take part in more than 100 years previously when he was brought to Bundaberg to toil on the sugarcane plantations. Like thousands of other men and women, known pejoratively as Kanakas, he was caught up in a widely condemned type of slavery known as ‘blackbirding’.
I met Chief Fandunamata shortly after he made his heartfelt apology. I couldn’t believe what I had heard. It was a history I knew nothing about.
I was in the audience that…
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