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Wednesday, 15 October 2008
Page: 9276


Mr NEVILLE (9:54 AM) —Labourers from the Pacific Islands played an important part in the growth of the sugar industry in Queensland. While many were recruited against their will—and shamefully so—others came willingly, and at the end of the Kanaka period some stayed in Australia. Others returned to the islands, taking the Australian culture—or the English culture, as perhaps it was then—and religion back to the islands. In my electorate last week we had a unique gathering, where South Sea islanders, particularly those from Fiji, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Vanuatu and principally the Solomon Islands, came to Bundaberg in what was truly a pilgrimage.

Bundaberg is to South Sea islanders as Rome is to Catholics or Canterbury is to Anglicans. The history of that is that Florence Young, of the Young family of Fairymead Mill fame, felt that it was important that the Kanakas who came here as uneducated people should have a chance to learn religion, culture and particularly the gospel. Peter Abuofa, who was one of those, went back to the islands and took the Christian religion with him. He called on Florence Young, I might add, to come over with him as a missionary. It is today the third-largest religion in the Solomon Islands. It is called the South Seas Evangelical Church of the Solomon Islands. It has 90,000 registered adherents and probably another 100,000 casual worshippers.

The pilgrimage started with a vessel, a yacht called the Shining Light, returning symbolically from the Solomon Islands to Bundaberg. It was a very moving ceremony. These people coming back to Bundaberg, where so much pain occurred, to say thank you was a very humbling thing for white Australians. It was not just some small item. It was led by Sir Nathaniel Waena, Governor-General of the Solomon Islands, the Reverend Erik Takila, the Acting Bishop of South Seas Evangelical Church, and a whole group of worshippers from all over those islands. There were over 200 delegates. They prayed every morning at 5 am, with over 250 attending each time. They had morning plenary sessions, with over 300 present. At night they had gatherings of over 500. It was truly inspiring, it was humbling and I as the local member was extraordinarily moved by the beauty, the culture, the magnificent singing and the prayerful way that these people came to Australia to acknowledge that the Christian religion they enjoyed had come from Bundaberg.