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Blackbirds

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4RFM recently completed a two-part Podcast episode entitled Blackbirds, looking into the little recognised, and often intentionally overlooked subject of Australia’s Slave Trade, otherwise known as Blackbirding.

The episodes were months in the making, and included interviews, insight and tales of lived experience from four descendants of Blackbirds; world renowned artist Jasmine Togo-Brisby, and Moranbah locals, school teacher Kristie Geiger, opencut operator Quentin Baggow, and underground miner Blair Vea Vea.

Kristie Geiger
Quentin Baggow
Blair Vea Vea

The four stories although related at the roots, were vastly different, and take listeners on a journey across the pacific, from New Zealand to Vanuatu and every island in the South Sea, to Mackay and Rockhampton, Qld towns rich in Blackbirding history.

Defined in the dictionary as “the act or practice of kidnapping people, especially Pacific Islanders, and selling them into slavery abroad, usually in Australia”, Blackbirding occurred in the 19th and early 20th centuries and its scourge left no islands untouched.

These slaves, known as Kanakas, are the reason for Australia’s successful Sugar industry. Taken from their homelands and put to work in the sugar plantations across Australia, their treatment was often inhumane, and something that has been largely overlooked by every government since its abolishment in 1901.

It is definitely a hard story to hear, and undoubtable harder still to tell, which is why so much of the history, and firsthand accounts of the time have been lost to the ages.

A thread that runs through all of our guest’s stories in this podcast is the ancestral decision to put the horrendous and painful stories of the past to the side and forge new paths forward. But the atrocities of the past can’t stay buried forever, and as the literal graves of men and women lost to Blackbirding continue to be discovered, so to the stories are being unearthed.

Producing these episodes opened up a whole new world for us here at 4RFM. Though not unfamiliar with the history of Blackbirding, we had our eyes opened to the hardships faced and the pain of having your entire world flipped upside down, with the repercussions felt for generations.

If you have never heard of the Blackbirding slave trade, or if you are unaware of the details, I highly recommend you have a listen to these episodes and continue to do your own research into the topic.

There is so much consumer information that covers the African and United States slave trade, from books to films and TV shows, and up until recently the Australian stories have largely gone untold. It was only a few weeks after we released our podcast that the Stan TV Series Black Snow went to air, shot locally in Proserpine Qld, the series touches on Blackbirding and stars many local South Sea Islander actors.

Hopefully this is just the beginning of easily accessible content to acknowledge that, although horrendous, this part of our history did happen.

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