In the Queensland Parliament on Thursday 7th September 2000 at 9:37am, a silence fell across the floors of parliament as the then Premier the Honorable Peter Beattie AC stood up and spoke the following words:
“I seek the support of all members of the House in acknowledging a very significant advance. Today my Government will right a wrong that has existed for more than a century in Queensland. Today we formally recognise Australian South Sea Islanders as a distinct cultural group in Queensland. For the information of members, I table the Queensland Government’s recognition statement of the Australian South Sea Islander community which, as honourable members can see, has been signed by both the Leader of the Opposition and me. I thank him for his cooperation and his bipartisan commitment to what we are doing today in this formal recognition. I will be moving that my ministerial statement be noted so that the Leader of the Opposition will have an opportunity to address this issue at the conclusion. I also wish to acknowledge in the public gallery representatives of the community, some of whom have traveled overnight by bus to witness this occasion. On behalf of all members of Parliament, I say to them that it is an honour to have them with us today. From this day, Australian South Sea Islanders will be recognised as a distinct cultural group in Queensland.”
Queensland Parliament Record of Proceedings, pg 3704. (The Record of Proceedings (Hansard) is the official record of the debates and procedures of the Queensland Parliament’s Legislative Assembly.)
A loud cheer erupted from the public gallery that was filled with the newly recognised Australian South Sea Islander community. Mixed feeling of remembrance and celebration simultaneously filled the room. As the acknowledgements continued throughout the morning the community reflected on the meaning of those words and the people who had paved a way for this for this official recognition. A significant moment, both powerful and emotional for all the community and all those involved in making this announcement.
People had traveled from all over Queensland and New South Wales to be a witness to this historical event in the Queensland Parliament. Some families had representatives from two or three generations present ensuring this even would be remembered for generations to come.
Many Australian South Sea Islander elders attended the day of events and I wondered who they carried with them in their hearts and what they felt as those words of recognition acknowledged the unique contributions by the community to the development of Queensland and its cultural landscape.
That afternoon, over 200 members of the Australian Sea Islanders community gathered on the Queensland Governments Parliamentary Annex for the formal ceremony to recognise Australian South Sea Islanders and the reading of the official, Queensland Government Recognition Statement. Australian South Sea Islander Community. Today, the 7th September is a significant day for the Australian South Sea Islander Community.
Imelda Miller – Engagement Officer, State Library of Queensland