blog / Film ‘Blackbird’ shines light on Pacific Islander sugar slaves in Australia

Thu, 18 June, 2015

Film ‘Blackbird’ shines light on Pacific Islander sugar slaves in Australia

Solomon Islander filmmaker Amie Batalibasi’s ‘Blackbird’ is a short period drama, that tells the story of the historical exploitation of Pacific Islanders, in Australia's sugar industry.  The film project needs your support.


The Australian South Sea Islanders (ASSI) are the descendants of some estimated 55,000 to 62,500 Pacific Islanders who were brought to Australia between 1863 and 1904 to work on the sugar cane fields of Queensland and Northern NSW.  

People were brought from more than 80 Pacific Islands, including Vanuatu (then called the 'New Hebrides') and the Solomon Islands, and to a lesser extent, from New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati and Tuvalu - making this a regional story of great importance not only to Australia, but also to the Pacific.

Amie Batalibasi’s film, ‘Blackbird’, a short period drama, will shed a light on some of the experiences faced by ASSI people during this time. This is a collaborative project involving the ASSI community of QLD in all areas of the development and delivery of this film. 

This methodology is in line with the director's overall creative practice - which centres around community, cultural diversity, social justice, and human rights. 


‘Blackbird’ is set in the early 1870s and follows the story of Solomon Islander siblings Kiko (14) and Rosa (24), who were kidnapped from their homelands and brought to work on a sugar plantation in Queensland’s Pioneer Valley. 

Kiko and Rosa are entangled in a world driven by commercial gain, where exploitation of Pacific Islanders for cheap labour is legislated, and conditions for Islanders are akin to slavery. 

Rosa struggles to day-to-day while trying to hold onto her culture and identity, and keeping an eye on Kiko, who is growing ever resistant to their bleak situation. Rosa is torn between silently prevailing, and saving her brother from Kiko's impending confiict with their ill-tempered overseer.


The film aims to demonstrate the enduring spirit of humanity to survive in the face of extreme adversity. Filmmaker Amie Batalibasi says it will honour the approximately 60,000 Pacific Islanders who were brought to Australia between 1863 and 1904 - three of whom were her ancestors, never seen or heard from again. 

The film is therefore as personal as it is about a collective history of exploitation of Pacific peoples - a history that must be told. Amie says: 

“In terms of the story, there are connections to my own heritage. I wanted to concentrate on siblings - and so the main characters, Rosa and Kiko came to be. In the film, they're from the Malaita, Solomon Islands where my own family live and where three of my own ancestors were taken from. In excess of 9000 Malaitans were taken during the Blackbirding era. So this is my homage to them, and a statement that we haven't forgotten. “


‘Blackbird’ will be filmed in July over eight days, on location in Mackay - where the history that this story is based on took place. Both professional and non-actors will be engaged to tell the story. 

The film will immerse audiences in a little known part of Australian history. With dialogue in traditional Solomon Islands languages and Pijin English, and elements of Islander culture, ‘Blackbird’ is set against the backdrop of expansive tropical cane fields.


Director Amie Batalibasi will put her own funds into the film, and most people working on the project will be volunteers. Due to the scale of this project, they need some assistance to pull it off.

A crowdfunding project to help fund the Blackbird Film Project has been launched where supporters have the opportunity to help get this film made - and score some great rewards! Donations will be used to create authentic period costumes, build sets, hire equipment, transportation, and feeding the crew.

Amie says: 

“We literally can't make this film without you so we welcome you to join us - share in the journey and the experience. Any small help is greatly appreciated and will go a long way. Help us share this story for which we so passionately want to tell!”

The crowdfunding campaign ends 30 June 2015:


The premiere screening will be held at the Australian Centre of the Moving Image in Melbourne as part of the VCA graduate screenings.

For more information, please contact writer/ director Amie Batalibasi:



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WORDS by Pauline Vetuna.


Images supplied by Amie Batalibasi.

Image 1: Group of South Sea Islanders Cairns 1890 (from State Library of QLD)

Image 2: Blackbird Film Project logo.

Image 3: ASSIs hoeing a cane field in the Herbert River Region QLD 1902 (from State Library of QLD)

Image 4: Australian South Sea Islanders planting sugar cane on a plantation at Bingera Queensland ca. 1897 (from State Library of QLD)

Image 5: Starrett Vea Vea, president of MADASSIA; Elizabeth Warren, Manager at Mackay Yamadi Lera Yumi Meta Association; ‘Blackbird’ director Amie Batalibasi.

Image 6: Amie Batalibasi at the Vellas farm, Mackay, QLD.


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