Award-winning journalist and Griffith journalism lecturer Nance Haxton has taken out silver and bronze awards at the World’s Best Radio Program awards in Manhattan.
Nance won for her documentary about the “kanakas” from Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands who worked in brutal conditions on the cane fields and cotton farms of Queensland and Northern New South Wales.
The former ABC journalist dedicated her awards to the more than 60,000 descendants of the “kanakas” living in Australia today.
“I want to thank the South Sea Islanders who trusted me with their stories, who enabled me to bring this issue to better worldwide recognition,” Nance said.
“We have not confronted our past in terms of the so-called blackbirding of Indigenous cultures in the Pacific. Many kanakas were brought to Australia against their will or under false pretences.
“Many people are calling for Australia to come to terms with its past, and for this chapter of history to be acknowledged more truthfully.
“What I found most distressing in my interviews was how many were harshly treated, with many enduring incredible cruelty, and being buried where they died along fence-lines; treated with no more dignity than livestock.”
Nance says there is still much work to be done.
“The problem with current debate is that one history should not be honoured at the expense of the other. That needs to stop. We can recognise all the journeys that brought us to where we are today as a nation so all sectors of the community feel heard.
“When we manage that without falling back into the patterns of politics, we will make real progress.”
Ms Haxton has started a PhD at Griffith University on blackbirding, where she will produce more podcasts from the descendants of kanakas as part of her research.
“This story shows the strength of the radio medium – actually hearing the emotion in people’s voices, makes these stories much more personal and compelling.
“I think there is real power in connecting with people’s voices in difficult stories such as these – radio is such an intimate medium and it continues and honours the oral storytelling tradition of the South Sea Islanders as well.