Thursday, January 26, 2023


Mackay and Whitsunday Life

Mackay Historian Shares South Sea Islander Story On TV

The Mackay region is home to the largest population of South Sea Islander people outside of the Pacific, their story seldom told until now.

‘Black Snow’, streaming on Stan, is a work of fiction created and written by Lucas Taylor and produced by Goalpost Television set in the fictional town Ashford but filmed in the sugarcane fields of Proserpine, producers saw an opportunity to tell the true story of the region’s South Sea Islander people.

Mackay resident Marion Fatnowna Healy has worked for over 30 years to share the history of the South Sea Islander people of the region, with her latest assignment being Cultural and Historical Consultant on the show.

The series follows a cold case investigation of the 1994 murder of seventeen-year-old Jasmine Baker, a crime that shocked the town and devastated Jasmine’s Australian South Sea Islander community.

“Because Lucas had that idea that he would feature this cold case in the cane fields, the opportunity then came for the story to be aligned with the Australian South Sea Islander community,” said Ms Fatnowna Healy.

“We got to tell a bit of our history and story through that via our families and you see it roll out.”

The first boatload of South Sea Islander people was brought into Mackay in 1867, seven years after John Mackay first discovered the region.

Over 62,000 South Sea Islander people were shipped to Australia between 1863 and 1904, mostly to Queensland, where they worked mainly in the sugar industry in poor-to-terrible conditions.

After 40 years of labour, as Australia moved towards federation, the White Australia Policy was introduced.

“The big push was to remove all the South Sea Islanders out of Australia, so they deported 7,000 and 1,000 were left behind,” said Ms Fatnowna Healy.

“They were left either by their choice, they had to plead to the government … or they hid, farmers hid them, and from that 1,000 you have us today.”

Ms Fatnowna Healy has worked in education for over 30 years, supporting Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and South Sea Island children and works to educate people on the untold history of South Sea Island people.

“We are the forgotten people,” she said.

“This year, we acknowledged that we’ve been in this country 160 years and the federal government only gave us recognition in 1994 and the Queensland Government, and I worked on it … we only got recognition in the year 2000.

“I have five children and we’re not even considered people of this country, but we helped build this nation.”

It’s Ms Fatnowna Healy’s rich knowledge of and advocacy for local and cultural history that got her the role of Cultural and Historical Consultant on ‘Black Snow’.

She was initially invited into the writer’s room to read through the completed script with Mr Taylor and other writers.

Ms Fatnowna Healy went on to workshop with the entire cast and crew, almost 170 people, telling the story of the South Sea Island people of Mackay.

“The commitment from Goalpost was … to educate everybody about the Australian South Sea Island audience,” Ms Fatnowna Healy said.

“People need to understand that it wasn’t all rosy, it definitely wasn’t rosy growing up.”

Working on the series for two and a half years, Ms Fatnowna Healy said she was honoured to share her culture’s story.

“What happened there was the feeling of compassion for us and the feeling of family amongst us, that we welcomed everybody into our community,” she said.

The cast features a large South Sea Islander contingent, many descendants of those who were brought over to the region in the 1800s and acting for the first time.

“We made sure that the application form gave the kids the opportunity to identify any which way they wanted, but when they did the lesson with me … many of those South Sea young people who were sitting at the table, it was the first time they were hearing their history,” said Ms Fatnowna Healy.

Less than a month after the show’s release, Ms Fatnowna Healy has already received glowing feedback from audiences.

“There’s been an amazing response from so many people, so it builds pride in me,” she said.

“Just like those young people not knowing who they were, it’s opened them up to start asking questions and having those conversations about, ‘Who are we? How do I find my history?’

“It’ll help those young ones, it’ll help my community, wherever they are, to have pride to be able to identify, ‘Hey, I’m a proud South Sea Islander and I matter.’”

In 2023, Ms Fatnowna Healy will continue to build her business Mer Bar Wakai Consultancy offering cultural and professional development workshops, leadership programs, cultural heritage awareness workshops, cultural activities and tours.

“I want our story to be told more further and further,” she said.

“I formed a business that brings in awareness and I’m available to anybody, private or public, to sit down and talk about our local history, so white history, black history, where we’re at and how we move forward.”

Ms Fatnowna Healy also runs the Kanaka Proud Cup with her brother Joseph Fatnowna, which Mackay is hosting from November 4 to 5 this year.

Caption 1: Mackay resident Marion Fatnowna Healy worked as Cultural and Historical Consultant on Stan series ‘Black Snow’

Caption 2: Black Snow was released on New Year's Day after filming wrapped up in the Proserpine region. Photos supplied

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