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Pacific News Minute: Australian Company Guilty in "Black Birding" Case

Wikipedia Commons
Wikipedia Commons

Last week, a court in Australia found a hiring company guilty in what's been called a case of modern day "black birding." The company, Maroochy Sunshine, recruited 22 workers from Vanuatu to pick fruit and vegetables in Queensland, but paid some less than the proper wage, and paid some nothing at all.  More from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute.

Black birding is the name given to the slave trade in the South Pacific ... Vanuatu's experience dates back to 1862 when a captain named JC Byrne put together a scheme to carry what he called colonists from what was then the New Hebrides to mine guano deposits on islands off Peru.  Later, so-called recruits were taken to work sugar and cotton plantations in Fiji, but, more and more, to the sugar cane fields of Queensland.

While some islanders did sign up willingly, many more were out and out kidnapped and Ships captains often resorted to trickery.  In 1871, Dr James Patrick Murray told the crew of the brig Carl to turn their collars around and carry black books.  When islanders came to attend what they thought was a seaside religious service, they were forced into boats at gunpoint and carried away.  Many died on the voyage, many more from backbreaking work on the plantations. The number taken remains unknown...about ten thousand were repatriated from Australia Under the Pacific Islanders Labourers act of 1901, but communities of survivors remain in Australia and Fiji.

Given that history, the Maroochy Sunshine case was widely reported in Vanuatu and Australia. Last fall, an official called the Fair Work Ombudsman took the company and its president to court.  Emmanuel Bani repeatedly failed to turn up to testify and was found guilty by default... sentencing is set for June. 

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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