THE word “Wantok” is Pijin for “one talk”, or “somebody who speaks my language”.
It has been adapted more broadly by Australia’s South Sea Islander community to mean “welcome” or “a gathering”.
About 62,000 islanders from Vanuatu, the Solomons and numerous other Pacific islands were kidnapped (or “blackbirded”) and brought to Australia from 1847 to 1904.
They worked predominantly as slave labour in the cane fields.
The death rate was high and many were deported with the introduction of the White Australia Policy in the early 1900s, but about 2000 remained and it is now estimated there are 40,000 descendents living in Australia as an unrecognised racial group.
Lismore has just hosted Wantok 2015, a three-day conference organised by Australian South Sea Islanders (Port Jackson), which is a Sydney-based group representing Australian South Sea Islanders.
President Emalda Davis said Lismore was selected because there was a significant number of descendants in the region, thought to be as high as 700.
The aim of the conference is to build towards forming a national body that can lobby and speak on behalf of all Australian South Sea Islanders.
At the moment the Australian Census and government departments do not recognise Australian South Sea Islanders as a distinct racial group, whereas they want to be recognised in the same way Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people are, rather than as “other” in all data collected relating to race and identity.
– The Northern Star