The Solomon Islands Governor General, Sir Nathaniel Waena visited descendants of South Sea Islanders in the Central Queensland City of Rockhamton last Thursday - assuring them that Melanesian countries continue to recognize their Melanesian heritage in the islands.Sir Nathaniel and his party which included High Commissioner to Australia, Victor Ngele traveled four hours from Bundaberg to Rockhamton.
An approximate population of 20,000 generation of South Sea Islands descendants resides in Central and North Queensland.
Australian South Sea Islanders are direct descendants of Melanesians largely from Solomon Islands and Vanuatu who were brought into Australia between 1863 and 1904 to work as indentured laborers.
Most were brought to Queensland and New South Wales to work in the fledgling sugar industry.
In Rockhamton, Sir Nathaniel visited historical sites including Kanaka town which was one of the main South Sea Islander settlements established in 1864.
The Governor General said although the descendants are now Australian Citizens, their connections to Melanesian societies of Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea are strongly recognized.
Sir Nathaniel encouraged the islanders to take advantage of Australia's powerful economic position to advance their status and welfare in a place they now call home.
"Move on with life in your communities. You are given a measure of prosperity than the situation in your islands of origin," Sir Nathaniel told the descendants at an informal gathering on Thursday evening.
Joe Leo, a Rockhamton Melanesian elder of Malaita descent said they are a distinct cultural group with a unique history and have contributed greatly to the development of Queensland.
However, until the 1990's the Australian South Sea Islander community was mostly unacknowledged.
Leo, who is commonly known as Joe Malayta (Malaita) said the islander community was recognized by the Federal Government as a unique minority group in 1994 following a report on the community undertaken by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.
He said on 7 September 2000 Premier Peter Beattie presented in the Queensland Legislative Assembly a formal Recognition Statement of the Australian South Sea Islander community which received bipartisan support.
The Recognition Statement recognizes Australian South Sea Islanders as a distinct cultural group acknowledging past injustices as well as significant contributions to the social, cultural and economic development of Queensland.
Sir Nathaniel acknowledged the ongoing positive developments among the islanders in Australia.