Australian Reflections on Blackbirding: Cultural donation to National Archives

Dr. David and Mrs.Helen Bunton.

A great-grandson of missionary John G. Paton, Dr David Bunton, is visiting Vanuatu with his artist wife, Helen Stacey Bunton, to donate to the National Archives a series of works she created for the 150th commemoration of the arrival in Queensland of the first islanders ‘blackbirded’ to the cotton and sugar plantations there.

They were part of the ASSI 150 Echoes exhibition at the regional gallery in Beaudesert, Qld, from 23 August to 26 October, 2013.

The exhibition, Australian Reflections on Blackbirding, will be on display at the National Library & Archives Art Gallery, Port Vila, from March 2 to 27, 2015, with the opening at 4pm on Monday March 2.

It features:

• Historical images and texts depicting the ‘recruitment’, life and work on the Queensland plantations, and final deportation of the blackbirded labourers;

• Portrayals of John G. and Margaret Whitecross Paton, including detail from a Tom Roberts portrait (c. 1900) with quotations protesting about ‘villainous slavers’ and the ‘deception, falsehoods and shocking crimes’ of the labour traffic;

• Two original paintings (on loan) by Margaret Whitecross Paton, of Tanna and Erromango, viewed from Aniwa (c.1870s);

• A ‘Sorry and Thank You’ artwork signed by visitors to the Beaudesert ASSI 150 commemorations;

• David Bunton’s song ‘Islander Tribute’ and his ‘letter to ancestry’ to John G. Paton, documenting Paton’s missionary life and extensive campaign against blackbirding;

• A flock of birds woven from sugarcane leaves in Fiji, a gift of Meriari Sukera, a Vanuatu descendant there.

Messages have been sent by Australian Members of Parliament, including the former Federal Speaker, Ms Anna Burke, who supported motions in the NSW and Federal parliaments about the inhumanity of blackbirding, the marginalisation of the descendants and appreciation of their contributions to Australia. A message has also come from the President of the Uniting Church in Australia.

School groups wishing to have a guided tour of the exhibition with Dr and Mrs Bunton to find out more about this history in the week of March 2-6, can make appointments with the National Library and Archives Art Gallery: telephone 22830 and ask for Nelly to book a time.

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