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South Sea Islander culture comes to Canberra

16 MARCH 2004

The culture of Australia's South Sea Islanders and their controversial contribution to the early sugar cane industry is explored in a new exhibition opening at the National Museum of Australia next Thursday.

Refined White opens on the 10th anniversary of Australia's South Sea Islanders gaining official Federal Government recognition as a distinct ethnic group with its own history and culture.

The exhibition will be opened by former Canberra Raiders and Australian rugby league test captain Mal Meninga, himself an Australian South Sea Islander.

"The National Museum gives snapshots of so many diverse groups within Australia," said the National Museum's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander program director Margo Neale.

"Refined White looks at the remarkable colonial role and survival of these indigenous people from the South Pacific who laboured in Australia's sugar industry - which continues to make headlines today."

About 62,000 people from the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and other New Hebrides islands were transported to Queensland between 1863 and 1904 to provide cheap labour for sugar plantations.

Refined White, curated by John Waldron, explores 140 years of South Sea Islander history using historic photographs and personal mementos.

The exhibition also looks at the lives of the 20,000 South Sea Islanders in Australia today, with a collection of contemporary images of close-knit Islander communities along the Queensland coast.

Mal Meninga is launching Refined White at 10.45am on Thursday, 18 March in the National Museum's Gallery of First Australians. Media are welcome.

The exhibition is on show in the National Museum's First Australians Focus Gallery until 22 August 2004. Entry is free.

Refined White is a travelling exhibition from the Australian Sugar Industry Museum in Innisfail. This project has been supported by the Queensland Government's Multicultural Affairs and Centenary of Federation; the Commonwealth's Centenary of Federation and Visions of Australia program; and the Australian sugar industry.

For interviews or more information please contact Public Affairs Director Martin Portus on 02 6208 5351, 0409 916 481 or m.portus@nma.gov.au