On Sunday 21 October 2018, 50 people attended the Australian South Sea Islander White Gloves Experience hosted by the State Library of Queensland. Members of the Brisbane community were joined by people who travelled from Mackay, Joskeleigh, Gladstone, the Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast and Tweed Heads. The last time there was a similar experience was in 2013, when Australian South Sea Islanders commemorated the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first South Sea Islanders arriving into Moreton Bay.
The day started off quietly, the documents and books arranged neatly. Significant photograph albums were placed strategically on their supportive pillows, waiting to be viewed by their audience. Once the doors opened, the room filled with people and collectively everyone paid their respects to the Traditional Owners of the Land and honoured the spirit of South Sea Islander Ancestors. Grounded in that sense of place, there was heightened anticipation to view the historical material on display.
The White Gloves event enabled quiet exploration, shared conversation and observation about the material. Of particular interest were:-
- the 1906 Royal Commission into the deportation of South Sea Islanders;
- images of women and men working in the cane fields;
- documentation regarding the White Australia Policy and
- personal documentation, including a passbook and exemption certificate.
The highlight for many was the ability to touch and engage with this original material, enabling people to feel a real connection to their history and the people named and photographed in this early part of Queensland’s history. Most people discovered someone, a place or something they could connect to. A few even discovered new information about their parents and grandparents.
Authors personal observation
Studying historical photographs and documentation raises more questions needing answers. I found myself thinking “who are all these people in these photos and what were they talking about?” On reflection… the White Gloves Experience was a wonderful day for the community to come together to connect with one another and to share information about Australian South Sea Islander history, heritage and culture. It was a privilege to witness the underlying sense of belonging and connection to community throughout the day. Thank you for helping to keep our history alive!
Imelda Miller, Engagement Officer, State Library of Queensland