By Talei Mangioni and Nicholas Hoare
In April 2022, the Oceania Working Party held their second workshop focused on “Australian South Sea Islander and Melanesian Life-Stories” with Dr Melinda Mann, Kim Kruger and Imelda Miller. The workshop brought together Australian South Sea Islander/South Sea Islander (ASSI/SSI) women from across what is now known as Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales. The focus of this workshop was to discuss the importance of familial and community life-stories, the ethics and community protocols on work with ASSI communities and strategies for doing Pacific Biography in Australia.
Chair of the Oceania Working Party, Professor Katerina Teaiwa opened the session with an acknowledgement of Country followed by a more general position statement outlining the Oceania Working Party’s commitment to Pacific Studies in solidarity with Aboriginal, Torres Strait and South Sea Islander sovereignties and life-stories. She said:
Professor Melanie Nolan, Director of the ANU’s National Centre of Biography, then introduced the audience to some of the work that the OWP in collaboration with the Australian Dictionary of Biography has been doing:
To properly begin the workshop, Dr Melinda Mann, Kim Kruger and Imelda Miller introduced themselves to the room and those on Zoom through their family genealogies with connections to their South Sea Islander forebearers from the Pacific Islands, specifically Vanuatu and Kanaky/New Caledonia. This was followed by a moving speech by Dr Mann to help workshop participants understand the critical need for accountability from Pacific peoples living and settling on unceded and stolen Aboriginal lands, relating the story of her own Darumbal and South Sea Islander ancestors. She highlighted:
This was followed by a presentation by Imelda Miller who spoke about her experiences working at the Queensland Museum and doing ASSI community outreach and engaging with archives. She stated:
Kim Kruger then gave an overview of South Sea Islander life writing over time from individual autobiographies of Faith Bandler to Noel Fatnowna as well as community histories from Mackay and Rockhampton. She highlighted that these were important in challenging the narrative that “slavery didn’t exist” in Australia.
This was then followed by two entries that both Melinda Mann and Kim Kruger had been working on about their relatives: Mabel Edmund and Lisa Bellear. Melinda Mann considered writing biography as “cultural, relational and liberation”. She talked about her Aunty Mabel as an Indigenous leader, writer and artist, appreciating the impact that she had on herself, as well as acknowledging that “her legacy belongs to her children and her children’s children”. Similarly, Kim Kruger’s entry on her cousin, Lisa Bellear, will be an important “narrative authority” of community members by community. She emphasised the need for community control in these spaces:
Kruger’s entry was commissioned by the Indigenous Working Party of the ADB (IADB). The OWP is following the lead of IADB in terms of codifying protocols and ethics on doing Pacific biography. These two biographies were important in paving the way for a wonderful conversation on what the Oceania Working Party and our members can do in these spaces. We were fortunate to have the chair of the Australian South Sea Islanders (Port Jackson) and City of Sydney Councillor (Waskam) Emelda Davis as well as the Vanuatu High Commissioner to Australia Samson Fare in the audience for the day. Their insights about working with local governments on the question of recognition and connecting back to Pacific communities in the islands were appreciated by all. Overall, the workshop was a valuable milestone for the OWP and their work in considering how to engage both ASSI and Pacific communities around these issues. We look forward to continuing this work!
This event was supported by the Oceania Working Party of the Australian Dictionary of Biography, the ANU Gender Institute and the Decolonial Possibilities/Decolonising the Academy: Trans-Indigenous Possibilities, School of Culture, History and Language Flagship for College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University. It was organised by Katerina Teaiwa, Talei Luscia Mangioni and Nicholas Hoare.
The Oceania Working Party is chaired by Katerina Teaiwa and supported by CHL since 2020. The Oceania Working Party is one of ten specialised working parties at the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) tasked with drawing up lists of individuals for inclusion in the ADB and giving advice on appropriate authors. The working party consists of 22 experts in the fields of Pacific History and Pacific Studies and uses Pacific Biography in Australia as its platform for disseminating news, research and other findings. Talei Luscia Mangioni and Nicholas Hoare are the research officers for the Oceania Working Party.
For more information go to: www.facebook.com/PacificBiographyInAustralia or email: OceaniaWorkingParty@gmail.com