Mackay visual artist Janet Ambrose. Picture: Contributed
Mackay visual artist Janet Ambrose. Picture: Contributed

Why this part of Mackay’s history should be recorded

FEARING the history of Mackay's South Sea islander community could get lost, visual artist Janet Ambrose began a project to shuffle it into the public eye.

She said she was inspired to start Conversations with Australian South Sea islanders: A Missing Chapter from Australian History two years ago as she was concerned about the lack of multicultural representation of South Sea islanders in Mackay.

Mrs Ambrose said she observed they needed more inclusion in daily conversations, which inspired her to start the project.

She said her concern was schoolchildren were not learning about the entire history of the Indigenous and South Sea islander community.

"If it's not going to be in our history books or even our school books, they get that small window where they might learn a little bit about the history of (Australian) South Sea islanders," Mrs Ambrose said.

"Until we do, they're going to be living in the background."

She said she interviewed and drew 54 different people for the project.

"When I came here, there was just so much, I call it, fodder for portraiture," Mrs Ambrose said.

Joe Fatnowna, Janet Ambrose, Doug Mooney, and Marion Healy at Conversations with Australian South Sea islanders: A Missing Chapter from Australian History. Picture: Contributed
Joe Fatnowna, Janet Ambrose, Doug Mooney, and Marion Healy at Conversations with Australian South Sea islanders: A Missing Chapter from Australian History. Picture: Contributed

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It was actually the numerous stories and colourful characters that convinced her Mackay was home.

She met her husband Kym Knight in 2013 at Victor Harbor in South Australia.

Hee was visiting from Mackay, but she said he convinced her to move to Mackay and get married there.

When she first moved, Mrs Ambrose said she met and talked to members of the city's South Sea islander Community.

"Well, I'm from South Australia and when I came up here, I began to meet members of the community and then I learned of their history and wondered why it was not in our history books," Mrs Ambrose said.

Mrs Ambrose said she learned about the slave trade in Australia and wondered why it was not taught more in schools.

"You know that when the civil war in southern (United States of) America finished, that's when slave trade started up here," she said

After talking to some members, Mrs Ambrose said some still felt like second-class citizens today.

"It's only like this generation now are really pushing through that feeling and becoming professors, educators, doing some really important stuff," she said.

 

Portraits from Janet Ambrose’s Conversations with Australian South Sea islanders: A Missing Chapter from Australian History
Portraits from Janet Ambrose’s Conversations with Australian South Sea islanders: A Missing Chapter from Australian History

Describing the portraits, she said they were drawn to appear like they were all having a conversation with each other, some gesturing and pointing towards others.

She said her process started with drawing the portraits first and then talking with the subject to transcribe the stories.

The stories were left unedited and she would show it to them.

"Then I would put together a book, and the book is 160 pages; that's in digital form at the gallery that you can have a look at," Mrs Ambrose said.

Another angle of the portraits from Janet Ambrose’s project Conversations with Australian South Sea islanders: A Missing Chapter from Australian History.
Another angle of the portraits from Janet Ambrose’s project Conversations with Australian South Sea islanders: A Missing Chapter from Australian History.

"So it's got the portrait and the story next to it."

Mrs Ambrose said the book was also available for purchase from the gallery.

The aim of her project was to start a conversation about the lack of representation for the South Sea islander community in Mackay.

"Some people in the southern states aren't even aware of Australian South Sea islanders," she said.

"It's my wish to send it south."

Mrs Ambrose said she would send it to any gallery that would accept her project.

Conversations with Australian South Sea islanders: A Missing Chapter from Australian History is available to view now at Artspace Mackay until November 29.

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