Time to reconnect

GOOD WILL: Ruth O’Dowd from The Gift Tree is raising funds for the Islander organisation Blackbird.
GOOD WILL: Ruth O’Dowd from The Gift Tree is raising funds for the Islander organisation Blackbird. Rob Williams

IPSWICH business owner Ruth O'Dowd was so shocked by the story of Australia's South Sea Islanders that she decided it was time to take action.

A self-proclaimed supporter of multiculturalism in Australia, Ms O'Dowd was introduced to the Blackbird International organisation recently and learned an often untold chapter in Australian history.

As part of a recruiting program that lasted from the mid-1800s to early 1900s, 60,000 islanders were taken from 80 Pacific islands including Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

They were brought to Australia to work on the canefields of central and north Queensland, with many of them permanently separated from their families as a result.

The act of "Blackbirding" refers to the use of trickery or kidnapping to recruit workers and is where the organisation takes its name from.

"When I came across this Blackbird organisation and learned about what happened, I thought it was just crazy that this happened in Australia," Ms O'Dowd said.

"It's a pretty sad part of our history - some of the workers were dumped back on islands that they didn't come from."

Blackbird started in 2003 as a means to help Australian South Sea Islander families reconnect with relatives in the Pacific.

Money raised for Blackbird goes toward community development activities including student sponsorship, sporting and cultural activities, educational supplies, rebuilding village infrastructure and micro business development.

Ms O'Dowd will host Tropical Christmas Celebration at The Gift Tree, 81 Downs St North Ipswich, on Saturday between 10am and 3pm.

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