Geraldine YowYeh is organising a South Sea Islanders meeting on the weekend.
Geraldine YowYeh is organising a South Sea Islanders meeting on the weekend. Allan Reinikka

People of South Sea unite as one

SHE'S an archaeologist, anthropologist, teacher, human rights advocate, and most importantly, the reason South Sea Islanders have a recognition day.

And the 66-year-old lives right here in central Queensland, after moving back from Canberra last year to her hometown of Keppel Sands.

While studying a degree in Archaeology and Anthropology in 1990, Geraldine YowYeh wanted to do something about the recognition of her people.

As she cared for her father, who was ill and worked on her mission for recognition, Geraldine stumbled across a pile of paperwork at her parent's house.

"When I came home from during my studies in Canberra in 1991 to look after my father, I found this paperwork and had no idea that they were already applying to the government to have a recognition day for South Sea Islanders," she said.

From then on, with a little help from others who had already got the ball rolling for recognition, most importantly from the Evatt Foundation, Geraldine said she took it that one step further to get the application in to government.

"I worked as a public servant for 40 years and during my degree from 1991 to 1994, I began the process of pushing for the government to pass the bill," she recalled.

And when that day came on August 25, 1994, Geraldine was right among it, literally.

"I was in Parliament that day when Keating was prime minister and announced that it had been recognised as an official day," she said.

"I was so happy, so I started clapping and I almost got thrown out of the room."

Since then, Geraldine has spent a lot of her time travelling the eastern coastline telling her people about the day and the things that need to happen along with it.

"We were given an action plan, which detailed the guidelines to follow in order to start doing things for our communities," she said.

"But I found out in October it was annihilated without telling anybody."

Next year in August will mark 150 years since the first boat of South Sea Islanders arrived on Australian shores.

And Geraldine hopes to bring the South Sea Islander community throughout the region together by planning a meeting this weekend in Rockhampton.

"From Mackay to Bundaberg and out to Mt Isa is how far we extend and I want everyone to meet here in Rockhampton and get a committee together so we can organise a celebration as well raise issues that are important for our people," she said.

 

ISLANDER MEETING

  • What: South Sea Island community meeting
  • When: Saturday, February 11
  • Where: South Sea Island Cultural Centre, 70/72 Simpson St, North Rockhampton
  • When: From 10am-1pm
  • Please bring a plate of food


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