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Pacific Storms – Brisbane Opening Speech by Mal Meninga

Waterfront Place, Brisbane city  Dec 16th,  2009

It gives me great pleasure to be able to launch the  Pacific Storms exhibition in Brisbane.  This  exhibition is the first of its kind in  Australia. It features leading Pacific Islander artists, both  from Australia and the Pacific, and it has as its theme the changing climatic  conditions which are affecting the islands in dramatic ways.  Pacific art is always vibrant and full  of colour, and this collection is no exception. The wonderful colour and feeling  jumps off the canvass to grab the attention of the viewer, and also carries a  powerful message.

As an Australian of Pacific Islands  ancestry I am very conscious of the importance of the Pacific to the future of  Australia.   Australia has Pacific communities scattered across all of the  States and Territories, yet these people are hard to quantify. If we believe the  2001 census there are around 100,000 Pacific Islanders in  Australia. This figure is conservative, because and the real  figure is certainly more than 300,000 and may even be close to 500,000. If you  ask the Papua New  Guinea  Consul in Brisbane he will tell you that there are 30,000 Papua New  Guineans in Australia, 75 percent of who live in  Queensland, most of them in the Greater Brisbane area.  The census says 24,000. There are  supposed to be 30,000 people of Samoan descent living in the LoganˆIpswich  corridor, yet the census suggests that there are only 15,240 Samoans in all of  Australia. Many are obscured in the statistics because they  entered Australia via New Zealand.  And  others, like my own people are obscured by generations of living in  Australia.

I am a descendant of the  approximately 50,000 Pacific Islanders who entered  Queensland as indentured labourers between 1863 and 1904, working  on 62,000 indenture contracts.  Two  unique words that identify my people – now known as Australian South Sea  Islanders – are Blackbirding and Kanaka.   Blackbirding was the term used to describe the process which brought my  ancestors to Queensland: the word has a strong taint of illegality and stealing  of labourers.  Kanaka is actually a  Polynesian word for ordinary rural people, but the word became a unique  identifier of the South Sea Islanders. Today, in  New  Caledonia the word  has become Kanak, a signifier of nationalist pride, now totally detached from  its original depreciating meaning. These Islanders lived all along the  Queensland sugar coast and in northern  New South  Wales; and many of  the families remain today in the same areas.  Pacific Storms first opened in  Bundaberg, a sugar town which remains important as a centre for Pacific  Islanders.

As a sportsman I have always been  conscious that I am a role model for younger sportsmen and sportswomen, and have  tried to play a role in community development in many different ways. Pacific  Storms allows me to link together my Pacific ancestry, arts and community  development, and to use my sporting background to promote the art and culture of  Pacific peoples.

The exhibition also represents the  developments in contemporary Pacific arts which are far better accepted and  appreciated in New Zealand, United  States and  many European countries than in Australia. Pacific arts are still struggling to find a place in  Australia, and Pacific Storms is part of the giving  Pacific arts a more prominent place in an Australian arts  environment.

This exhibition is an important  mixture of art, environmental issues and Pacific peoples. I hope that it has the  impact it deserves on Australia.  It shows  works of great beauty, but it also contains a warning about the changing  environment; a warning that we ignore at our  peril.

  1. […] Read in full >>> Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Pacific Storms – Opening Pictures […]

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