Monthly Archives: June 2020
On August 30 2019, a comet from outside our solar system was observed by amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov at the MARGO observatory in Crimea. This was only the second time an interstellar comet had ever been recorded. Comet 19 or C/2019 Q4 , as it is now known, made its closest approach to the sun on December 8 2019, roughly coinciding with the first recorded human cases of COVID-19.
While we know that this is merely coincidence, in medieval times authorities regarded natural phenomena such as comets and eclipses as portents of natural disasters, including plagues.
One of the most learned men of the early Middle Ages was the Venerable Bede, an Anglo-Saxon monk who lived in Northumbria in the late seventh and early eighth centuries. In chapter 25 of his scientific treatise, De natura rerum (On the Nature of Things) , he describes comets as “stars with flames like hair. They are born suddenly, portending a change of royal power or plague or wars or winds or heat”.
Plagues and natural phenomena
Outbreaks of the bubonic plague were recorded long before the Black Death of the 14th century. In the 6th century, a plague spread from Egypt to Europe and lingered for the next 200 years. At the end of the seventh century, the Irish scholar Adomnán, Abbot of Iona wrote in book 42 of his Life of St Columba of “the great mortality which twice in our time has ravaged a large part of the world”. The effects of this plague were so severe in England that, according to Bede, the kingdom of Essex reverted to paganism.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that 664 “the sun grew dark, and in this year came to the island of Britain a great plague among men (‘micel man cwealm’ in Anglo Saxon)”. The year 664 held great significance for the English and Irish churches: a great meeting (or synod) was held in Whitby in Northumbria to decide whether the English church should follow the Irish or Roman system for calculating the date of Easter. By describing the occurrence of an eclipse and plague in the same year as the synod, Bede makes this important event in the English Church more memorable and meaningful.
Plague and medieval religion
In the Middle Ages, occurrences like plague and disease were thought of as expressions of God’s will. In the Bible, God uses natural phenomena to punish humankind for sin. In the Book of Revelation 6:8, for example, pestilence is described as one of the signs of Judgement Day. Medieval scholars were aware that some plagues and diseases were spread through the air, as explained by the seventh-century scholar Isidore of Seville in chapter 39 of his De natura rerum (On the Nature of Things):
Pestilence is a disease spreading widely and infecting by its contagion whatever it touches. When plague (‘plaga’) smites the earth because of mankind’s sins, then from some cause, that is, either the force of drought or of heat or an excess of rain, the air is corrupted.
Bede based his On the Nature of Things on this work by Isidore. In a discussion of plague in the Old English version of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History we find a reference to the “an-fleoga”, meaning something like “the one who flies” or “solitary flier”. This same idea of airborne disease is a feature of Anglo-Saxon medicine. One example comes from an Old English poem we call a metrical charm, which combines ancient Germanic folklore with Christian prayer and ritual. In the Nine Herbs Charm, the charmer addresses each herb individually and invokes its power over disease:
This is against poison, and this is against the one who flies,
this is against the loathsome one that travels throughout the land …
if any poison come flying from the east,
or any come from the north,
or any from the west over the nations of men,
Christ stood over the disease of every kind.
As well as fearing plague, medieval scholars attempted to pinpoint its origins and carefully recorded its occurrence and effects. Like us, they used whatever means they could to protect themselves from disease. But it is clear medieval chroniclers presented historical events as part of a divine plan for humankind by linking them with natural phenomena like plagues and comets.
The chances of finding another major archaeological monument near Stonehenge today are probably very small given the generations of work that has gone into studying the site. Stumbling across such a monument that measured more than 2km across must be highly unlikely. And yet that is exactly what our team from the Anglo-Austrian “Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes” research project has done.
We discovered a circle of pits, each ten metres or more in diameter and at least five metres deep, around Stonehenge’s largest prehistoric neighbour, the so-called super henge at Durrington Walls. More amazingly, the initial evidence for this discovery was hidden away in terabytes of remote sensing data and reams of unpublished literature generated by archaeologists over the years.
Durrington is one of Britain’s largest neolithic monuments. Comprising banks and ditches measuring 500 metres across, the henge was constructed over 4,500 years ago by early farmers, around the time that Stonehenge achieved it’s final, distinctive form. The site itself overlies what may have been one of north west Europe’s largest neolithic villages. Researchers suggest that the communities that built Stonehenge lived here.
Over the last decade, there has been a quiet revolution in the landscape around Stonehenge as archaeologists have gained access to enhanced remote sensing technologies. Around 18 sq km of landscape around Stonehenge has now been surveyed through geophysics. Now archaeologists are joining the dots within these enormous data set, and making associations they might not have done otherwise.
The first geophysical anomalies related to our new discovery were recorded (but not published) some years ago when a small number of peculiar circular splodges in the magnetometry data south of Durrington. These were initially interpreted as shallower features, possibly dew ponds, unlinked to the henge. But our research group realised that similar features had been recorded far to the north of the henge by archaeological contractors, interpreted as natural sink holes caused by solution of the chalk bedrock.
Our mapping work suggested all these features were actually linked and part of a single, massive circuit surrounding the henge monument at Durrington. Detailed study, including drilling for underground samples, revealed the anomalies as massive pits, with near vertical sides, containing worked flint and bone. Radiocarbon dating suggested the features were from the same time as the henge.
Shafts and pits are known in prehistoric British archaeology, but the sheer number of massive pits and the scale of the Durrington circuit is unparalleled in the UK. The internal area of the ring is likely to be at least around three sq km. This arrangement of pits certainly gives the impression they bound an important space, and here there may be a comparison to be made with Stonehenge itself.
Stonehenge actually has a territory sometimes called the “Stonehenge Envelope”. This is marked by lines of later burial mounds clustering around the monument, covering an area similar to that of Durrington Walls. The space is marked so clearly that archaeologists have suggested only a special few people may have been allowed to enter the area.
This association of Stonehenge with death and burial has also led to interpretations that it was reserved for ancestors. Durrington, in contrast, is believed to be associated with the living. But our discovery of the pits suggest that Durrington did have a similar special outer area, as large as that associated with Stonehenge.
The pit circle also provide insights into the mindset of the people who built these massive structures. The pits appear to be laid out to include a much earlier monument: the Larkhill causewayed enclosure.
Built more than 1,000 years before the Durrington Walls henge, such ditched enclosures were the first large communal constructions in Britain and they were clearly important to early farming communities. The decision to appropriate this earlier monument into the circuit of the henge must have been a deliberate, symbolic statement.
In fact, the pits appear to have been laid out in a notional circle so that they were all the same walking distance from the henge as the causewayed enclosure. Given the scale involved and the shape of the landscape, which includes several valleys, this would have been difficult to achieve without the existence of a tally or counting system. This is the first evidence that such a system may have been used by neolithic people to lay out what must be considered a sacred geometry, at the scale suggested by the Durrington pits.
The unexpected discovery of a unique set of massive pits within the Stonehenge landscape may also have implications in terms of the site’s management. There are similar individual features scattered throughout the landscape that are unexplored but may be of equal significance. Yet a proposed road (the A303) development includes a road tunnel that will pass close to the iconic site of Stonehenge itself and impact a large corridor of land directly associated with the site.
The issue of value is complex when we’re discussing a period of history in which the digging of pits clearly had a multitude of social values. We would do well to consider the implication of such discoveries before a tragic loss ensues. Future generations are unlikely to forgive us if we damage this unique landscape.
Washington Post publisher, Philip L. Graham, famously declared that journalism is the “first rough draft of history”. It’s also the first rough draft of inspiration for movies and books “based on a true story”.
Since four Victorian journalists witnessed Ned Kelly’s last stand on June 28 1880, their vivid accounts have influenced portrayals of the bushranger – from the world’s first feature film in 1906 to Peter Carey’s 2000 novel, True History of the Kelly Gang, adapted to a gender-bending punk film earlier this year.
In the hours before the Glenrowan siege, the four newspaper men – Joseph Dalgarno Melvin of The Argus, George Vesey Allen of the Melbourne Daily Telegraph, John McWhirter of The Age and illustrator Francis Thomas Dean Carrington of The Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil – received a last-minute telegram to join the Special Police Train from Melbourne to confront the Kelly Gang.
The rail journey would prove to be one hell of an assignment and inspiration for Kelly retellings over the next 140 years.
The journalists have a fleeting scene in the 1970 Ned Kelly film starring a pouty Mick Jagger. Two characters rush up to the train, holding huge pads of paper to signal their press credentials to the audience.
It’s a cinematic glimpse of the journalists whose historic descriptions continue to influence the Ned Kelly cultural industry that is the cornerstone of Australia’s bushranger genre.
The train left Melbourne late Sunday evening. Carrington, “embedded” along with the others, described the journey:
… the great speed we were going at caused the carriage to oscillate very violently … The night was intensely cold.
McWhirter’s take was somewhat more upbeat, suggesting a thrill in the cold evening air. He wrote the night was
a splendid one, the moon shining with unusual brightness whilst the sharp, frosty air caused the slightest noise in the forest beyond to be distinctly heard.
After 1am Monday, the train arrived at Benalla, where it picked up more troopers, horses and “Kelly hunter” Superintendent Francis Hare, played by Geoffrey Rush in Gregor Jordan’s 2003 adaptation of Robert Drewe’s novel, Our Sunshine.
Sometime later, the train was flagged down before Glenrowan by schoolteacher Thomas Curnow, alerting the travelling party to the dangerous Kelly gang ahead. In a follow-up article about the siege, Melvin reported the first details of the teacher’s bravery. This would become a pivotal scene in future Kelly recreations: “Kindling a light behind a red handkerchief, he improvised a danger signal”.
When the train arrived at Glenrowan station, the horses were released and bolted “pell-nell into a paddock”, wrote Carrington, as the Kellys opened fire.
Part of the story
Unhindered by modern media ethics, the journalists became actively involved in the siege. Their involvement is a nod to “gonzo journalism” practices – made famous nearly a century later by writer Hunter S. Thompson – in which journalists join the action rather than neutrally report on it.
Kelly had a love-hate relationship with the press. He once wrote:
Had I robbed, plundered, ravished and murdered everything I met, my character could not be painted blacker than it is at present, but I thank God my conscience is as clear as the snow in Peru …
Early in the siege, the journalists sheltered from the gunfire at the station, until they saw Hare bleeding from the wrist. Carrington wrote:
We plugged each end of the wound with some cotton waste and bound it up with a silk pocket handkerchief … Mr Hare again essayed to start for the hotel. He had got about fifty yards when he turned back and reeled. We ran to him and supported him to a railway carriage, and there he fainted from loss of blood … Some of the bullets from the verandah came whistling and pinging about us.
As the siege continued into the early hours, the journalists recorded the wails of the Glenrowan Inn’s matron, Ann Jones, when her son was shot, as well as the eerie tapping of Kelly’s gun on his helmet, which Carrington wrote sounded like “the noise like the ring of a hammer on an anvil”.
Their interviews with released hostages revealed gang member Joe Byrne was shot as he reached for a bottle of whiskey that, like Curnow flagging down the train, has become another key Kelly siege scene.
Man in the iron mask
Of all the gripping details the journalists recorded, their first descriptions of the bushranger emerging in his armour in the morning mist were what proved most inspiring to subsequent Kelly creators.
Allen wrote the helmet was “made of ploughshares stolen from the farmers around Greta”, describing the cutting blade construction, and called him “the man in the iron mask”. Carrington wrote:
Presently we noticed a very tall figure in white stalking slowly along in the direction of the hotel. There was no head visible, and in the dim light of morning, with the steam rising from the ground, it looked, for all the world, like the ghost of Hamlet’s father with no head, only a very long, thick neck.
After Kelly was shot in the legs, the writer described his collapse and his dramatic unmasking:
The figure staggered and reeled like a drunken man, and in a few moments afterwards fell near the dead timber. The spell was then broken, and we all rushed forward to see who and what our ghostly antagonist was […] the iron mask was torn off, and there, in the broad light of day, were the features of the veritable bloodthirsty Ned Kelly himself.
Precious film footage restored by the Australian National Film and Sound Archive of the 1906 film The Story of the Kelly Gang, the world’s first feature film, shows Kelly shooting at police in his iconic armour, then collapsing by a dead trunk on the ground surrounded by police. The scene is just as Carrington and his colleagues described it in their reports.
Perhaps the most faithful rendering of Carrington’s Kelly description is Peter Carey’s fictional witness in the preface of True History of the Kelly Gang.
Carey’s witness echoes the description of Kelly as a “creature” and describes its “headless neck”.
After he was shot in the legs, the witness recounts Kelly “reeled and staggered like a drunken man” and falling near dead timber. The book’s preface and Melvin’s first Argus report both describe Kelly after he fell as “a wild beast brought to bay”.
Carey’s witness may be fictional, but his account is based on journalists’ accounts of witnessing Kelly’s capture. Carey credited many of his research sources to Kelly historian Ian Jones, who republished Carrington’s account titled Catching the Kellys – A Personal Narrative of One who Went in the Special Train along with illustrations in Ned Kelly: The Last Stand, Written and Illustrated by an Eyewitness.
‘Hunted like a dog’
The journalists helped the police strip Kelly of his armour and carry him back to the station, cut off his boots and kept him warm, all the while interviewing him as the siege continued with the remaining bushrangers inside the inn.
McWhirter remarked the bushranger was “composed”.
“I had several conversations with him, and he told me he was sick of his life, as he was hunted like a dog, and could get no rest,” Carrington wrote. He described Kelly’s clothes underneath the armour – a crimean (meaning a coloured, no button flannel) shirt with large black spots.
The journalists then turned their attention to the burning of the inn, featured in the background of Sidney Nolan’s 1946 painting, Glenrowan which depicts a fallen Kelly towering in his armour over policemen and Aboriginal trackers.
Kelly was hanged in Melbourne in November 1880, a few months after the journalists’ train ride and the siege.
The journalists continued their careers, with Melvin becoming the most prominent of the four in participatory journalism. After a stint as a war correspondent, he joined the Helena ship as an crew member to investigate, undercover, the “blackbirding” trade that indentured South Pacific Islanders to the Australian cane fields.
In the 1906 review of the first feature film – The Story of the Kelly Gang and exhibition, The Age critic wrote, “if there were any imperfections in detail probably few in the hall had memories long enough to detect them”.
Yet, the 1906 film was criticised by the Argus for not being faithful to the original descriptions of his “bushman dandy” dress as described by Carrington and his colleagues on the day.
The art may be in the interpreting eye, but the scenes are from that first rough draft of history.
Readers are advised the following article contains descriptions of violence that may be traumatic.
In July 2018, Western Australia’s Police Commissioner Chris Dawson formally apologised for the mistreatment of Aboriginal people at the hands of police, acknowledging the “significant role” the police played in the dispossession of Australia’s First Nations people. Dawson made particular reference to the way:
forceful removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families and communities, the displacement of mothers and their children, sisters, fathers and brothers, the loss of family and resulting destruction of culture has had grave impacts
“Forced removal” references the unique role played by police in many settler colonies such as Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand, the United States and Canada in relation to First Nations peoples: executing assimilationist policies designed to dismantle First Nations families.
A closer look at the history of policing in Australia helps explain some of the dynamics at play in the Black Lives Matter and First Nations Deaths in Custody movement in Australia and a growing push for alternative models of policing.
The ‘Irish Model’ of policing
Mainstream histories of policing have looked to 19th century British Prime Minister Robert Peel’s London Metropolitan Police “British Model” of policing, with its focus on policing through consensus and “walking the beat”.
There is another model of policing, however, which better reflects the Australian history.
Known as the “Irish Model” from its origins in suppressing dissent in the Irish colony in the 19th century, it set the police against the community, placed them in military style barracks, under a highly centralised and hierarchical chain of command. In general, they were not there to win hearts and minds.
Look to Chris Owen’s magnificent study of policing in the Kimberley region of Western Australia between 1882 and 1905 – titled Every Mother’s Son is Guilty. Policing was based around a highly mobile horse mounted model to cope with the extraordinary distances. As Owen shows, attitudes of the police towards First Nations people were deeply influenced by contemporary beliefs that they were inferior to whites, and a priori criminal.
Many police officers in the frontier colonial era were conscious of being part of a “civilizing mission” and held highly paternalistic attitudes.
One officer who policed the remote regions of Western Australian in the 1920s recalls being
conscientious in my desire for their welfare, for I looked upon them then, as I do now, as children.
Elsewhere, officers exercised often unfettered brutality in punitive frontier expeditions. This was in pursuit of pastoral land grabs, settler occupation and the disintegration of Aboriginal families.
This was a feature of the Native Police Forces that operated in various parts of Australia from the 1830s until the early 20th century.
These forces, responsible for many atrocities against Aboriginal people, consisted of Aboriginal troopers under the command of white officers such as Constable William Willshire whose killings resulted in an unsuccessful murder trial in 1891 and Lieutenant Frederick Wheeler, whose massacres were reviewed by a Queensland parliamentary inquiry in 1861 (which decided to reprimand but not dismiss him).
The inquiry heard evidence of the Native Police Force’s murderous contact with Aboriginal people.
Historical accounts of the Northern Territory’s Native Police, modelled on the Queensland’s Force, documents its fatal force against Aboriginal lives to allegedly defend colonists’ lives and property.
In Western Australia, the 1927 Royal Commission into the killing and burning of Aboriginal bodies in the Forrest River massacre found police were brutal in effecting arrests.
The use of police brutality extended beyond Native Police expeditions, and was characteristic of police powers more widely. The Colonial Frontier Massacres Map documenting massacres of First Nations families across Australia include extensive records of police killings, such as 60 Warlpiri, Anmatyere and Kaytetye women, men and children in the Coniston Massacre in 1928.
Ideas of law and order formed only a fragment of the colonial police role where Aboriginal people were concerned. Much of it was taken up with implementing the “Aboriginal Protection Acts” or simply “Aboriginal Acts”, which continued well into the 20th century. Examples abound: the Aborigines Protection Act 1886 (Western Australia), the Aboriginal Protection Act and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 (Queensland), the Aborigines Protection Act 1909 (New South Wales), the Aborigines Act 1911 (South Australia); Aboriginals Ordinance 1911 (Northern Territory) and The Aborigines Protection Act 1886 (Victoria).
Aboriginal Acts were used in practice to forcibly relocate Aboriginal people to a place of prescribed confinement, which in practice could include on government settlements, reserves, church missions, hospital lock ups, penal islands, cattle stations and other institutions.
Often police officers assumed the role of Aboriginal Protector under these Acts and exercised broad powers over Aboriginal lives.
Police also gained specific powers under legislation that allowed them to remove Aboriginal children from their families under “child welfare” legislation. Testimony from Victoria in the Bringing them Home inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families reported that:
From 1956 and 1957 more than one hundred and fifty children (more than 10% of the children in the Aboriginal population of Victoria at that time) were living in State children’s institutions. The great majority had been seized by police and charged in the Children’s Court with “being in need of care and protection”. Many policemen act from genuine concern for the “best interests” of Aboriginal children, but some are over-eager to enter Aboriginal homes and bully parents with threats to remove their children.
The experience of one Aboriginal child in Western Australia in 1935 was told to the inquiry:
I was at the post office with my Mum and Auntie [and cousin]. They put us in the police ute and said they were taking us to Broome. They put the mums in there as well. But when we’d gone [about ten miles] they stopped, and threw the mothers out of the car. We jumped on our mothers’ backs, crying, trying not to be left behind. But the policemen pulled us off and threw us back in the car. They pushed the mothers away and drove off, while our mothers were chasing the car, running and crying after us. We were screaming in the back of that car. When we got to Broome they put me and my cousin in the Broome lock-up. We were only ten years old.
Police still play a role in removing First Nations children from their families today. The Family is Culture Report in 2019 noted significant concerns about the use of police during removals, saying:
when police are used for removal, especially riot police, this has historical continuity.
Police powers in the first half of the 20th century extended to the forced isolation and confinement of Aboriginal people on public health grounds, such as in various lock-up hospitals, on the basis of a diagnosis made by a police officer of syphilis or leprosy – or a decision that the person was at risk.
The police acted as the gatekeepers for enclosure in a ubiquity of institutions. At the same time as imposing the law, the police also acted as Protectors of Aboriginal people, distributed rations and blankets, provided pastoralists with Aboriginal workers in remote areas and ensured that they remained on pastoral stations.
Aboriginal worker Hobbles Danyarri said:
If you put your own colour, police tracker, that means he can bring them in. He can bring them in to work and don’t let him steal it [beef]. Let them work. Let them work.
And Aboriginal stockman Barney Barnes remembers the removal of Aboriginal communities accused of cattle killing onto Cherrabun, Go Go and Christmas Creek stations in the Kimberley:
That manager made the police go out and bring all the people in from the desert. He reckoned that they were killing too many bullocks. So the police came out and rounded up all the Walmajarri people […] They kept going at it until nobody was left out there. They didn’t allow the Aboriginal people to live in the desert after that.
Aboriginal people who defied Aboriginal Protection Acts and the rules of reserves and settlements – such as speaking in language, practising culture, marrying without the protector’s permission, or otherwise disobeying orders of the protector – would be sent for punishment to places such as Palm Island. These Acts were often enforced by police officers.
Hope for the future
Moving away from a colonial and assimilationist model of policing in Australia involves restructuring police and honouring First Nations self determination.
Community Patrol models, which are embedded in First Nations communities and work towards the safety and wellbeing of women, children and families, provide a First Nations alternative.
It’s time to consider setting police models on a new course that abolishes force and re-imagines community relationships.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to add more detail and quotes.
Scott Morrison says “we shouldn’t be importing” the Black Lives Matter movement. But in the 1800s, Australia imported plantation owners from the American South.
Prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War, the American south produced almost all of the world’s cotton. As war threatened, plantation owners returned to England and English cotton mills ground to a halt.
A new source of cotton was required, and Queensland would be widely promoted as a cotton growing colony and the “future cotton field of England”. The colony government invited mill and plantation owners and workers to re-migrate and re-establish their industry in Queensland.
Under 1861’s “Cotton Regulations”, individuals and companies could lease land and receive the freehold title within two years if one-tenth of the land was used for growing cotton.
As early as June of that year – barely two months after the civil war officially began – the Muir brothers, Robert, Matthew and David, established the Queensland Manchester Cotton Company and initiated plans to send an agent to Queensland to begin the process of establishing plantations.
The brothers owned cotton plantations in Louisiana before returning to Manchester and then on to Queensland. The manager of the company, Thomas William Morton, also migrated from Louisiana to Queensland via England. His son Alexander went on to become the prominent curator of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.
After an agreement was made between the government and shipping companies in 1863, thousands of “cotton immigrants” travelled to Queensland, and profits of American slavery were reinvested in Queensland’s new tropical plantation economy.
A colony for cotton
Disruption of the American slave trade didn’t only lead to the search for new fertile soil. Plantation owners also wanted cheap labour for the burgeoning Australian cotton industry.
The free labour of enslaved African Americans had generated immense profits, and Australian plantation owners were unable to induce sufficient numbers of white men to labour in the tropics on low wages.
(Popular medical theories also posited the physical unsuitably of white men for work in the tropics, conveniently maintaining racial hierarchy.)
Plantation owners turned to the Pacific Islands to ensure a steady supply of indentured labour.
Under the indenture system, workers were bound to an employer for a specified length of time. These contracts were governed by Masters and Servants Acts with conditions set steeply in favour of plantation owners.
The work was physically demanding, and rates of death and injury were high. During a Pacific Islander’s first year of indenture, the death rate was 81 per 1,000 – especially startling given labourers were in their physical prime, usually between 16 and 35 years of age.
Between 1863-1902, 62,000 Islanders migrated to Australia.
An ongoing legacy
The Queensland colonial government established a tropical plantation economy which benefited from capital, workers and working conditions imported from the American south to the sugar fields of Queensland.
Labourers’ obligations to their employers were almost unlimited, and their rights were limited to the payment of wages.
The legal conditions of indenture made a worker’s refusal to comply with duties demanded by his or her master a prosecutable offence, no matter how small (or unreasonable) the task. Planters could bring charges in local courts against workers for absconding, “malingering”, or “shirking” (deliberately working slowly) – actions sometimes employed by Islanders as forms of resistance.
The Islander workers fought for increased rights, resisting Australian colonial society at times, while at other times adapting to it. The workers would be granted increased protections from “blackbirding” (recruiting labour via kidnapping, coercion or exploitation) under the Polynesian Labourers Act 1968, and later fought for their rights against deportation under the White Australia Policy.
Despite the harsh conditions, many South Sea Islanders returned to Queensland on multiple contracts, entering a pattern of “circular migration” from the islands of the Pacific to Queensland and back again. Others stayed on after their contracts had expired, became knowledgeable about the labour market and the value of their skills, and engaged in short term contracts on their own terms.
Many Islanders laid down permanent roots in Queensland, marrying Aboriginal and white Queenslanders, starting families and establishing homes.
Australia doesn’t need to “import” protests against racism now: this importation happened centuries ago.