More Than Just a Game

KCP Cultural Day 2021

After a break last year, the Kanaka Proud Cup (KPC) is back for 2021 and events have already commenced in Rockhampton. 

From its beginnings during Mackay ASSI 150 commemoration events, the KPC has always been a fun footy comp but at its heart is a mission to create a way for ASSI communities to learn about history, family, culture and connect with each other. Organiser Marion Healy says that the origins of the KPC are linked to MADASSIA’s Mackay cemetery project in 2017 where from 114 unmarked graves, 90 sites were identified through months of researching online records by Mesh & Knots Project Researcher Imogen Healy. KPC grew out of wanting to create a cultural day and share the stories that had been put together through the project with the community.

Marion talks about how the idea developed: “My brother Joseph Fatnowna said, we gotta take these stories somewhere so everybody else will benefit from that history. So we thought, well, if we had a cultural day and then turned it around and put on a game, we could bring all the young people together to tell them that story. What we did was, Mackay has a football team that plays in the State league, they’re called the Cutters and they were playing the Capras which is the Rockhampton team. So we said why don’t we do the curtain-raiser to that game and we approached Rocky and said why don’t they field a team and we field a team – bring them up a day earlier and we take them out and we walk them through the Mackay cemetery and tell them the stories.” 

There was also an awareness around supporting ASSI men in terms of mental health, suicide prevention and encouraging leadership. “Once you know your story and know your roots you know how to stand at the front and lead your family and your community and I can see that now happening and we’re in our 4th year,” says Marion. That first cultural day back in 2017 not only took players to the cemetery, but also to other historical sites in Mackay including the river, the Leichhardt Tree and a visit to a sugar cane farm. “Uncle Dougie showed the men how to cut cane, all these young men got in and started cutting cane. So that’s that bit of teaching them who they are,” Marion says. 

Out of this came the Kanaka Proud Cup. In terms of the name Marion says, “with permission from the elders I asked: Can we please take the word Kanaka back and we own it? So the elders gave me permission.” 

Kerry Warkill and Marion Healy, KPC 2019.
KPC 2017, Mackay.

Since then, KPC has been hosted alternately between Rockhampton and Mackay. Australian South Sea Islander United Council Independent Rockhampton president Kerry Warkill says that the event has grown every year to include women and younger ages. “The first year we just had the men’s team, the following year we had the open men’s team and then we introduced the open women’s team and under 18 boys. And then the third year we had under 18 girls, under 18 boys and open men and womens. This year we’ve got under 12s and under 18 boys and girls and open mens and womens. So we’ve actually got five games this year.” 

The cultural day has continued to be a significant part of KPC involving players, community and elders. “We usually go visit cultural sights. In 2018 we went to Joskeleigh School and introduced them to the Joskeleigh history – where the South Sea Islanders lived and how they lived. We encouraged them to go through the museum, have a look at old photos and encouraged them to sit down and ask the elders. This year we’ll do the same thing,” Kerry says. “Players can learn about their family and their history on the Friday and then on the Saturday we play the game and the game is about respecting all those people that went before you and trying to connect.” Kerry says the underlying intentions of the KPC remain strong. “Basically it’s not just about rugby league, it’s about celebrating our history, bringing our community together, trying to unite our community.” 

KPC Cultural Day 2021
KPC Cultural Day 2021

Kerry says that KPC has become a popular event that attracts crowds of over one thousand people in Rockhampton. “They don’t just come from Mackay, they come from up in Bowen too. Because the way we choose our teams, they’ve got to be connected to the community. So the elders know who they are. Because our communities have shifted throughout the years, a lot of the people that grew up in Joskeleigh and Kanaka Town have moved to Mackay and Bowen so they’re all either connected back to Rocky or Mackay because that’s where their parents and grandparents came from. We’ve had people from Sydney come up and play, we’ve had some interest from Alice Springs and places like that because people that have lived here have got out there to live but there children come from here, their mother and father are here, their grandparents are here and they want their children to come back and get that connection to the community.”

To Kerry and many ASSI community members, KPC has a deeper meaning beyond just a sporting comp – acknowledgement and ASSI visibility are vital. “It’s more than just a game, it’s about too, that we need something now because we’ve had Recognition, we’ve been recognised for 27 years with the Federal Government and 21 years with the State Government. So it’s getting out there again now, encouraging the young ones. This is what our elders fought for Recognition for and putting ourselves out there where the Government can see us now, that our communities still exist. And what they recognised with these communities 20 odd years ago about the difficulties and disadvantages that we still suffer and we still need that assistance. So it’s getting ourselves back out there, encouraging our generation, my generation and the generation that follows me, to step forward now and build on what your grandparents did.”

This year’s KPC event is set to be a great one and Kerry commends the work of the KPC committee, coaches and all involved with a special shout out to the ladies who have led a massive fundraising effort in order to raise thousands of dollars to host the event in Rockhampton this year from November 4th – 6th. 

KPC players themselves come from all backgrounds and all ages. The women’s games are an integral part of the event not only in organising, but playing, leading and participating. The first ever KPC women’s team captain in 2018 was Latoya Harbin (nee Smith). Here she shares about her experience being involved, what it means to her and the spirit of the KPC. 

Latoya with husband Earl, and children (left to right) Ezra, Lavassa & Izayah. 

• Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Latoya Harbin (nee Smith). I am a proud Aboriginal and Australian South Sea Islander woman.I was born and raised in Rockhampton. My husband, Earl and I have three beautiful boys Izayah & Ezra (7) and Lavassa (6). I follow my paternal great-great grandfather’s ancestry, Jimmy Wovat, who was blackbirded from Gaua Island, Vanuatu. My family lineage stems from the Minniecon, Lingwoodock and Choppy families.

• How did you come to be the first women’s team captain?

I had no idea that I was captain, until the night of the jersey presentation. We were all lining up in our positions. I was playing fullback, so I was at the front of the line, but the coach kept calling up everyone else in front of me. I did not think anything of it, until there was no one left… However, it was a night I will never forget. It was my mother-in-law’s birthday, but more importantly, it was my beautiful mother-in-law, Robyn Harbin (nee Willie) who presented me the very first women’s KPC Captain’s jersey. It was an absolute honour and privilege to have received my jersey from my mother-in-law, as she is someone who I aspire to be. She is the most humble, kind hearted, strongest woman I know.

Latoya with her mother-in-law (Robyn Harbin née Willie) at the 2018 KPC jersey presentation.

• How long have you been involved in KPC?

I have been involved with KPC since its inception in Rockhampton in 2018.

• Can you tell us some highlights from the games you’ve played?

For me the highlights from the game didn’t come from on the field. For me, the highlights were getting to know the South Sea Islander women off the field, getting to know their story and their families. Their passion and love for their culture and wanting to know more and invest in their South Sea Islander history.

• Why is the event important to you?

I think it’s important to showcase our South Sea Islander culture and history with the wider community through sports. Sport brings people together. KPC creates an atmosphere that brings people together to be proud of who they are and where they have come from. It’s not just about a game, it’s about who you are – it’s about your identity.

• Why do you think it is important to have women’s participation in the event?

We hear about the men’s hard indentured labour in the cane fields, but I think we forget about what the women had to endure as well. South Sea Islander Elder, Uncle Bill Power recently said, “If it wasn’t for women being part of these organisations, nothing would have been done. They kept us moving”. This has really resonated with me. I think it’s time we bring our strong deadly South Sea Islander women to the forefront – we’ve got the platform, so let’s use it.

• What do you think young people can learn from KPC?

They can learn about themselves. Who they are and where they belong. It’s not just about football, it’s about learning who you are, about your culture, language and spirit.

• What would you say is the spirit of KPC?

For me the spirit of KPC sits within me. The spirit within me is for my ancestors, whose strength, courage and determination kept us here. Who fought a long and hard through all the barriers like language and culture – that’s the spirit of KPC in me.


Thanks to Marion Healy, Kerry Warkill and Latoya Harbin for participating in this story. For more information and photographs see Kanaka Proud Cup on Facebook. 

ASSI History Month Community Voices – Joella Warkill

This week we chat with talented wordsmith and performer Joella Warkill for the ASSI History Month Community Voices series. Joella took the time to answer a few questions about her creative practice and the importance of history, community and family in providing inspiration for her work.

Standing in front my piece ‘Cook My Hungi Like You Did My Ancestors’ in the Plantation Voices exhibition in 2019. Photo credit: State Library of Queensland.

Joella is a proud First Nations and South Sea Islander woman; descending from Yidinji people and Pentecost and Ambrym Island/s in Vanuatu. Aside from being the Associate Producer at BlakDance, and being a full-time University student, Joella has a strong passion for spoken word poetry, and working with youth and communities in the performing arts field. 

Joella’s poetry has been performed in various spaces including QLD Parliament, Plantation Voices exhibition at State Library of QLD, National Young Writers Festival 2019 and Commonwealth Games 2018. More recently Joella has commissioned pieces for local online magazines, SBS First Nations takeover series 2020 and BIGSOUND Festival 2020. 

Tell us a little about yourself and your art practice. 
I’m Joella Warkill, proud First Nations and South Sea Islander woman. Born and raised on Darumbal country in CQ with close connections to Kanaka Town/Creek St and Joskeleigh communities. I’m currently studying a Bachelor or Human Services and Creative Writing at QUT and I write and perform poetry independently when I’m not working or studying. 

Where did you grow up and how has it influenced your creative practice? 
Growing up in Rocky I grew up constantly around all my families and close to Kanaka Town and Joskeleigh communities – which both hold a lot of history, memories and love for my parents and grandparents. This influenced the themes I write about it and the approach I have with my practice. There are pieces that I write that I immediately know are for my communities back home instead of for mainstream spaces and the ability navigating where my words should be presented comes from understanding that my “art” at the centre of it is just a way of continuing my cultures. 
In the same sense growing up far from my great grandmothers country has taught me how to appreciate country and home when I am there, and strengthens my creativity in writing when I now live even further away, in Meanjin. 

Where do you find inspiration for your creative practice? 
Everything I ever need to inspire myself is in my history, community or family. Vague answer, but painfully true. 

What creative project has been a highlight in your career so far? 
The first time I got to share my poetry in front of my Nan will always be a highlight for me. Other than that, sharing my poetry as part of the Fake Art Harms Culture campaign in Queensland Parliament. My other highlights aren’t particularly creative projects but being able to share in front of my Nan for the first time, and to the community back in Rocky will always be a memory I’ll look back and smile on. 

Whose work in the Australian South Sea Islander community are you enjoying at the moment?
I love and support any ASSI artist or creative whenever I can. But I really Love following my cousin and deadly musician Robbie Mann (Malampa Mann on Facebook) lately. More recently he has been sharing a lot of his musical journey online and taking solo gigs and gigs bigger than himself and it’s really deadly to see. 

Speaking on a panel as an artist in the Plantation Voices exhibition at SLQ in 2019. Photo credit: State Library of Queensland.

Where do you see your creative practice heading in the future? 
I aspire to become a well published author of YA novels that create solidarity between my own communities, educate other communities and have my writing stand as a representation for future generations to see themselves taking up as much space as they can. 

What do you love about the creative arts and why?
I love that you can tell stories in such an engaging way in a space that lets you explore and experiment and be yourself all while representing your people and community. The only boundaries are those of your own and you’re constantly learning in the creative arts industries. 

Performing a spoken word piece with Ethan Enoch-Barlow at Queensland College of Art. Photo credit: Digi Youth Arts

Do you have any advice for young or emerging artists and creatives?
Don’t rush your process for immediate success or validation. Following your passions will challenge and test you in the best of times but finding the balance between life and work/art is specific to you and only you so don’t compare your journey to others, and always remember where and who you come from. 

Where can people find and follow you online?
You can follow me on Instagram at @mynameisjoella_ 

Further links:

WATCH Joella’s poetry performances on Instagram:

What does freedom taste like?

Voice, Treaty, Truth w Ethan Enoch-Barlow

Featured image: Performing a spoken word piece at IMA in March 2020. Photo Credit: Marc Pricop, Institute of Modern Art. All images courtesy of the artist.

In Newcastle for the National Young Writers Festival 2019.

ASSI History Month Community Voices – Dylan Mooney

This week we shine a light on the powerful and moving artwork of Dylan Mooney as part of our ASSI History Month Community Voices series. Dylan took the time to answer a few questions about his art practice and where he finds inspiration.

Dylan Mooney, black & white image by Jesse Williams.

Dylan Mooney is a proud Yuwi, Torres Strait and South Sea Islander man from Mackay in North Queensland working across painting, printmaking, digital illustration and drawing.”

Influenced by history, culture and family, Mooney responds to community stories, current affairs and social media. Armed with a rich cultural upbringing, Mooney now translates the knowledge and stories passed down to him, through art. Legally blind, the digital medium’s backlit display allows the artist to produce a high-impact illustrative style with bright, saturated colour that reflects his experiences with keen political energy and insight.

Where did you grow up and how has it influenced your art practice? 

I grew up in Mackay, QLD it has really influenced my art practice because of the diversity and the history behind the area. Having all my family there and hearing the stories about our origins and culture has reinforced my art.

Where do you find inspiration for your art work? 

I get my inspiration from my family and community and landscapes. Hearing the stories about our people and the legacy my ancestors have left behind is what I really try to put into my artworks

“Given chains”, digital illustration, Dylan Mooney.

What art project has been a highlight in your career so far and why does this stand out? 

The art project that has been the highlight of my career is doing my residency at Artspace Mackay. I had the opportunity to paint my mob’s traditional Yuwi Shields in the Foyer gallery and being able to bring them back to community was very meaningful to me and my family and just seeing the community’s reactions and getting very good feedback was beautiful.

“Goolmary”, mural, paint & acrylic pens, Artspace Mackay, Dylan Mooney.

Whose work in the Australian South Sea Islander community are you inspired by? 

Imelda Miller (Queensland Museum Curator, Torres Strait Islander and Pacific Indigenous Studies Cultures and Histories) has got to be one of my biggest idols within the South Sea Islander community, seeing all the work she has done for our people and the work she is doing now is very special and very inspiring to me. Imelda has been one of my mentors throughout the years and getting to work with her on a number of ASSI projects has been very special. I am very thankful to not only call her family but my mentor and my friend.

What projects are you working on currently?

I am currently working on a South Sea Islander project and creating new works for that and hoping to have an exhibition at the end of the project. I also have my 2nd solo exhibition at Cairns Art Gallery. It’s exciting because I get to show my culture to other communities and just being to show my works in galleries is very special. 

Where do you see your art practice heading in the future? 

I hope to have my own space to promote and give other Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and South Sea Islander Artists a space to share their artworks and help them pursue a career in the arts industry. 

You have a big online presence, what do you like about interacting with an audience? What kind of feedback and encouragement do you receive online? 

What I love about it is that I am seeing other deadly mob from all over this continent and seeing their deadly work they do. It’s been great feedback from social media and great support from other mobs and hearing that just makes me happy, you know to get that deadly support from mob is the best type of encouragement for me.

What advice do you have for any young, aspiring or emerging artists?

The advice I have for them is to keep up what you’re doing. You know we have all this knowledge and culture behind us and there’s nothing we can’t do. 

Where can people find you online? 

Instagram is my main art page you can find me at @dylanmooney__

Further links:


Biography & Art:


Featured image: “We remember them”, digital illustration, Dylan Mooney. All images courtesy of the artist.

Australian South Sea Islander History Month

In August 2019, we started the first “Australian South Sea Islander History Month” (#ASSIhistorymonth) sharing posts on our ASSI Stories Facebook page including stories, archival images, articles and historical documents that uncover a dark part of Australian history – the era of blackbirding.

In August 25 years ago, the Australian government officially recognised Australian South Sea Islanders as a distinct cultural group. This was more than a century after Robert Towns and his ship, the Don Juan, brought 67 Ni-Vanuatu to work on his properties in Queensland in 1863. What followed was the displacement of approximately 60 000 Pacific Islanders who were brought to Australia, often by coercion, to work on cotton and cane fields.

'South Sea Islanders on a labour vessel', Source: State Library of Queensland.
‘South Sea Islanders on a labour vessel’, Source: State Library of Queensland.

We give recognition to the approximately 60,000 Pacific Islanders who from 1863 over a period of almost 40 years, were blackbirded to Australia from more than 80 Pacific Islands including Vanuatu (New Hebrides), Solomon Islands, PNG, Tuvalu, New Caledonia, Kiribati. 

We acknowledge their suffering; loss of culture and identity; loss of lives; disconnection to country; the families they left behind; and the subsequent marginalisation of community here in Australia. 

We acknowledge the community that emerged in the face of adversity – Australian South Sea Islanders (ASSI) who are today, more than 30000 strong. 

'South Sea Islanders on a sailing ship at Bundaberg', Source: State Library of Queensland.
‘South Sea Islanders on a sailing ship at Bundaberg’, Source: State Library of Queensland.

We acknowledge that over 150 years ago many were kidnapped, tricked or died in the process of ‘recruitment’ where ship owners were paid per head for each Islander. In the early years, laws did not to protect Islanders from the most extreme kinds of exploitation by their employers. Many were taken, and paid nothing. 

We acknowledge that the men and women who came here were as young as twelve years old. 

We recognise that even under an ‘indentured labour system’ where Islanders were supposed to have signed three year contracts, language barriers and racial hierarchy meant that blackbirding was a system of imbalance, injustice and bias towards the oppressor. Even under the ‘indentured labour system’ and attempts at government regulation, Islanders continued to be exploited.

We recognise that conditions on the farms were often slave-like with insufficient access to food, water and substandard living conditions. 

We acknowledge that when wages were paid to the Islanders, it was one quarter the wage of the white worker. The rights of Islanders were inferior to all other workers. 

We acknowledge the back-breaking work of clearing land, cutting cane, carting shipments, hoeing and building in the scorching tropical heat under the eye of an overseer all year round. This blood, sweat and tears built the backbone of today’s Australian sugar industry. 

‘South Sea Islander labourers loading cut sugar cane into a wagon Queensland’, source: State Library of Queensland.

We acknowledge the extremely high death rates of Islanders (almost one third) due to disease, lack of sufficient health care and poor living conditions. Oral history tells us that some died of ‘a broken heart’.  Many who died were buried in unmarked graves on the plantations where they worked. The death rate of Islanders is the highest of any immigrant group who has come to Australia. 

We recognise that those who died as a result of being blackbirded were never paid their rightful wages – this money was absorbed by the Commonwealth and today, equates to tens of millions of dollars. Some community members are calling for financial compensation while some Pacific Island nations are calling for remuneration and an apology.

South Sea Islanders planting sugar cane at Seaforth Plantation at Ayr Queensland 1890 SLQ
‘South Sea Islanders planting sugar cane at Seaforth Plantation at Ayr Queensland 1890’, source State Library of Queensland.

We acknowledge: “Kanaka”. In the past, often used in a derogatory manner towards Islanders, the news media at the time perpetuated a negative stereotype of the “Kanaka Menace”. Today though, many have reclaimed the word to a place of empowerment and pride – it’s origin is the Hawaiian word for ‘man’.  

We acknowledge that under a blatantly racist “White Australia Policy” thousands of Islanders were deported through the Pacific Islanders Labourers Act in 1901. Oral history tells us that around this time, some Islanders where dumped at sea. Others were taken to the wrong Island where they were stranded or sometimes killed. Some Islanders were dumped in the Torres Straight Islands. Others did made it home. 

‘South Sea Islander women with child.’ Source: State Library of Queensland.
‘South Sea Islander women with child.’ Source: State Library of Queensland.

Group of women South Sea Islanders Cairns 1890
‘Group of women South Sea Islanders Cairns 1890’, Source: State Library of Queensland.

We recognise those Islanders who around 1901 had built a life in Australia and stayed through petitioning to the King. We also recognise those who hid from deportation in an effort to stay with their families here in Australia. Both groups amounted to approximately 2000 Islanders and they continued to suffer discrimination by law. Islanders could not become citizens or purchase liquor; they were forced out of sugar industry jobs by the Sugar Bounty Act 1903 and Qld Sugar Cultivation Act 1913 which favoured white workers; and were subjected to the same discriminatory and punitive laws as those applied to Indigenous Queenslanders.

We acknowledge the community that emerged in the face of marginalisation – Australian South Sea Islanders (ASSI) who prevailed despite this history. 

'Australian South Sea Islanders at their Sunday School in Mackay, Queensland, circa 1890', Source: State Library of Queensland.
‘Australian South Sea Islanders at their Sunday School in Mackay, Queensland, circa 1890’, Source: State Library of Queensland.

We acknowledge Australian South Sea Islanders who fought for Indigenous rights and ASSI rights, and those who lobbied for Commonwealth Government acknowledgement of Australian South Sea Islanders as a distinct cultural minority group in Australia in 1994 and for Queensland Government recognition in 2000.

We recognise the work of past and present ASSI individuals and organisations who continue to fight for and support ASSI, Pacific Islander and Indigenous communities. 

We acknowledge the Indigenous lands where ASSI ancestors toiled, the solidarity with and the deep connection with First Australians that the Australian South Sea Islander population has through family and culture. 

We acknowledge the next generation who are forging ahead, representing, and keeping their identities strong. 

We recognise those searching for family roots, those who know little but want to know more, those who have made connections and those who haven’t. 

We give respect to elders who carried the burden of this history, passed down the stories and taught us to persist. 

We give recognition to the our ancestors. 



Oral histories and personal family research –


Watch ASSI Stories Films Online

The entire ASSI Stories series of short films is available to watch online for free! Find stories exploring Australian South Sea Islander identity, heritage and culture by first-time writer/directors Jessika Bezgovsek, Danita Merrypor, Jacintha Bezgovsek, Kerry Warkill, John Corowa, Joanne Warkill & Alison Edwards.

Aunty Valda’s Story by Jessika Bezgovsek

This animated documentary brings to life, the story of a well respected community elder Aunty Valda Coolwell. Aunty Valda talks of how her grandfather was blackbirded from Vanuatu to Australia and the life he built for himself and his family in Queensland. This touching film was written and directed by 10 year old Jess – the youngest ASSI Stories participant.

Wholeheartedly by Danita Merrypor

Australian South Sea Islander Stories_ Wholeheartedly by Danita Merrypor from ASSI Stories on Vimeo.

This short documentary features Australian South Sea Islander singer/ songwriter Georgia Corowa. A well seasoned musician and performer, this film showcases Georgia’s journey and explores the role that music and storytelling has played in her life; the discovery of her South Sea Islander heritage; and the importance of music for her children and into the future.

Counting Bottle Trees by Jacintha Bezgovsek

Australian South Sea Islander Stories – Counting Bottle Trees by Jacintha Bezgovsek from ASSI Stories on Vimeo.

‘Counting Bottle Trees’ is based on Jacintha’s childhood memories of her Grandfather Joseph Merrypor. Set at a family property on Kinka Beach, Central Queensland Coast, this film steps back in time and revisits special moments shared between a Grandfather and Grandchild.

Famle Blong Yufala by Kerry Warkill

Australian South Sea Islander Stories – Famle Blong Yufala by Kerry Warkill from ASSI Stories on Vimeo.

We follow Kerry as he takes his family (kids and grandchildren) on a trip to Creek St, Rockhampton, and Joskeleigh, Capricorn Coast. Kerry tells the stories of his Mother’s and his Father’s connections to these places and the history that these sites hold. His family look on and listen in a heartfelt journey to pass on this oral history to the next generation.

My Saltwater Dreaming by John Corowa

Australian South Sea Islander Stories – My Saltwater Dreaming by John Corowa from ASSI Stories on Vimeo.

This film is a personal story that explores John’s family background, the connection he feels to the ocean and his holistic approach to health and wellbeing. We see John pursuing his passion as a practitioner of Kahuna massage, a traditional practice that originated in Hawaii.

Australian South Sea Islander Gala Event 2013 by Joanne Warkill

Australian South Sea Islander Stories- 150 Years Australian South Sea Islander Gala Event 2013 by Joanne Warkill from ASSI Stories on Vimeo.

Joanne’s film showcases the first Australian South Sea Islander Gala Ball event held in Yeppoon, Queensland in 2013. The event was held as part of the 150 years commemoration program and it was a significant way for community members to acknowledge & remember their history and their ancestors, whilst celebrating ASSI community achievements.

Cultural Beginnings – Grassroots by Alison Edwards

Australian South Sea Islander Stories – Grass Roots’ by Alison Edwards from ASSI Stories on Vimeo.

In this film, Alison shares stories of her family heritage and culture through interviews with her Uncle Terry and her Mother Joan. We hear about the journey that Alison’s Great Grandfather made from Vanuatu to Australia; her Mother’s childhood memories growing up on the Sunshine Coast; and how her family kept island connections alive. The film shows how the passing down of culture and heritage through the generations, has impacted on Alison’s own personal journey.

The seven ASSI Stories films are available on DVD:

To purchase a copy for $15 (plus postage): CLICK HERE


The ASSI Stories Experience – A Speech by Joanne Warkill

Written by Joanne Warkill and presented at the Australian South Sea Islander Stories Film Festival, 14 December 2014 at The Edge, Brisbane.

Joanne Warkill presents her speech at the ASSI Stories Film Festival 2014. Image by Jo-Anne Driessens
Joanne Warkill presents her speech at the ASSI Stories Film Festival 2014. Image by Jo-Anne Driessens

First of all I acknowledge my God for all his blessings, secondly I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land in which we stand on today. I acknowledge all elders past and present and elders here today including my mum and dad Monica and Joe Leo.

I would like to thank the ASSI Secretariat body for thinking of this great project and for obtaining the funding from Australia Council for Arts. I thank the funding body for giving us this opportunity in gaining some extra skills in video production and making.  Of course I thank the team and other participants that participated in this project.  To Amie our creative producer for all her hard work and I mean Hard Work, hey Amie?

When I first received an email about workshops on learning to create video, small documentary films, my first thought was: “Oh how awesome this would be to learn because we have a lot of elders who still yet to tell their stories and would be great if we learnt how to do this so we can then pass onto other families so they can in turn tell their stories by creating their own  documentaries”.

I have worked voluntary and non voluntary in the ASSI community and the indigenous community for the past 30 years.  I have had a strong South Sea island upbringing and might add a strict upbringing by my parents here.

My experience in making this film and helping others to make theirs was very rewarding . My husband and I have had fun and laughter in making our films, but also had frustrations.   Our journey started when we participated in our first workshop on Stradbroke Island what a beautiful island, what a beautiful setting.  It was an enjoyable weekend of work and play, meeting new faces and seeing old faces again and was truly a blessing.

Having some stories told by our Aunty Valda Coolwell was also amazing. We learnt about storytelling, storyboards, shot lists, call sheets, and media consent.  Whilst on Stradbroke Island we were also taught the history about this island and attended some historical sites by Georgia Corowa, her husband Mat Burns and family.

With our storyboards we drew our pictures and I remember thinking: “Oh my goodness how am I suppose to draw this and that?” It took me back to old school days of learning how to illustrate things.  This workshop also taught me how to think ahead for our story, from the beginning to the middle to the end of the story.  What story do we want our film to portray?  So then we would write down our ideas on how we wanted our story to be shown and told.  That was a big exercise in itself.

Then in October we actually had to shoot our film so then we co-ordinated dates with Amie to do this.  Amie is such a great  teacher. We were shown more of how to hold the camera and narrate on films.  Having the right settings in the backgrounds and also settings on the camera.  I remember learning how to hold the camera in a car while the car is moving, making sure I was capturing the right scene – it was fun, even falling in the sand was great, hey Jacintha?

Then after doing camera work and interviewing people for our films, we would edit our own films, we were lucky in this area to have our neice Kaylene Butler, who is a producer in Rockhampton, to show us some hints.  My husband Kerry Warkill knows more about editing than me, so he will be showing me more editing when we make more films.

My film was very emotional to me remembering 150 years ago why our ancestors were brought here to Australia and why our community held the ASSI Gala Event to signify this.  One of my daughters Joella, who dances in the film was also effected emotionally.  As I am sure all of the other participants were effected this way while they were completing their own films.

I am confident you all here will enjoy tonights films and once again  thank everyone involved in this project for giving us such an awesome experience we will never forget.


ASSI Stories Stradbroke Island Workshops
ASSI Stories Stradbroke Island Workshops, September 2014.

Aunty Valda and Joanne Warkill. ASSI Stories Stradbroke Island Workshops, September 2014.
Aunty Valda and Joanne Warkill. ASSI Stories Stradbroke Island Workshops, September 2014.

ASSI Stories Stradbroke Island Workshops, September 2014.
With Cultural Educator and traditional owner, Mat Burns during ASSI Stories Stradbroke Island Workshops, September 2014.

Joanne Warkill with her parents Joe and Monica Leo - ASSI Stories Shoot, Rockhampton 2014.
Joanne Warkill with her parents Joe and Monica Leo – ASSI Stories Shoot, Rockhampton 2014.

Joanne as camera person for Jacintha Bezgovsek's film, with Jessika Bezgovsek, Kinka Beach 2014.
Joanne as camera person for Jacintha Bezgovsek’s film, with Jessika Bezgovsek, Kinka Beach 2014.

Joanne Directing with husband Kerry Warkill and daughter Joella, ASSI Stories Shoot, Rockhampton, 2014.
Joanne Directing with husband Kerry Warkill and daughter Joella, ASSI Stories Shoot, Rockhampton, 2014.

ASSI Stories participants receiving certificates, December 2014.
ASSI Stories participants receiving certificates, December 2014. Image by Jo-Anne Driessens.

Inaugural film festival to share Australian South Sea Islander stories


An inaugural free one-day festival of Australian South Sea Islander film, arts, food and music will be held at The Edge, Queensland in Brisbane on Sunday 14 December 2014.

The event is the culmination of a 12-month project, funded by the Australian Council for the Arts. It has seen Australian South Sea Islander participants from Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Rockhampton and Hervey Bay learn new skills and produce seven short films.

Last year marked 150 years since boats carrying 60,000 South Sea Islanders started to arrive in Queensland. The descendants of these people, who worked as pastoralists to build the cotton and sugarcane industry in Queensland and NSW, have come together this year to tell their stories.

The film premieres include a charming stop-motion animation by 10-year-old Jessika Bezgovsek from Brisbane’s North Lakes that tells the story of a respected community elder. The narrative, told by Aunty Valda Coolwell, focuses on her grandfather, who was ‘blackbirded’ (coerced through trickery and /or kidnapping to work as a labourer) from Vanuatu and went on to build a life in Queensland.

Another documentary by Danita Merrypor – shot on Stradbroke Island – features singer /songwriter Georgia Corowa, who has worked, performed and toured nationally with some of Australia’s finest musicians.

A married couple from Rockhampton have also chosen to make their own films. Joanne Warkill, whose parents Joe and Monica Leo featured in the 1995 documentary Sugar Slaves, is making her first film about the 150 year 2013 Australian South Sea Islander Gala Ball. Her husband Kerry Warkill has dedicated his own very personal film to their children.

Other films have been made by John Corowa, Jacintha Bezgovsek and Alison Edwards, on location in Hervey Bay, the Capricorn Coast and the Sunshine Coast respectively. These films tell stories of family history as well as contemporary personal stories exploring history, childhood memories and identity.

All of the participants are first time filmmakers who have learned everything from scriptwriting and story boarding through to camera operation and editing using professional equipment in the last year.

Melbourne-based Australian Solomon Islander filmmaker and creative producer Amie Batalibasi, who facilitated the workshops, is running the project in partnership with the Australian South Sea Islanders Secretariat Inc. Brisbane (ASSIS Inc.).

Ms Batalibasi has been involved in many community film and media projects – including Pacific Stories, Wantok Stori and the Young Media Makers Project – said she felt privileged to be working with ASSIS Inc. as Creative Producer.

“During the 150 Commemoration events last year, I volunteered with ASSIS Inc. to help run some community screenings showing films about Australian South Sea Islanders. It was surprising to see how little video content there is, that has been made by ASSI communities themselves. I hope that the ASSI Stories project, will be a first step towards changing that,” Ms Batalibasi said.

President of ASSIS inc., Edwina Lingwoodock, said the project aimed to help ASSI people tell their stories to the wider community about who they are and how they have contributed significantly to the development of modern Australia.

“This project will be empowering to the ASSI community by giving a voice to Australian South Sea Islanders. The videos and media produced from the project will stand as long-lasting educational resources in the future,” Ms Lingwoodock said.

After the premiere, ASSIS Inc. will establish a website to showcase the films and produce an online education kit that will be accessible to all.

ASSI Stories Project Links

ASSI Stories Kerry - Joskeleigh
On location at Joskeleigh shooting Kerry Warkill’s film. © ASSI Stories 2014.


ASSI Stories Jess 03
Jessika Bezgovsek on the set of her animation. © ASSI Stories 2014.


Welcome to the Australian South Sea Islander Stories Project

ASSI Stories: A multimedia project for Australian South Sea Islanders to explore identity, heritage & story.


The Australian South Sea Islander Stories  (ASSI Stories) project is about storytelling, education and awareness.

In 2014, ASSI community members were invited to attend storytelling and media workshops in Brisbane, to learn how to turn their story into a short film. At the end of the project, the films produced by project participants were presented in a public screening event at The Edge, State Library of Queensland in Brisbane.

A Facebook page ( and website documented the process of workshops, discussions and filming in various Queensland towns with seven participants writing and directing their own short films.

ASSI Stories_John Corowa
Participants Jessika Bezgovsek, John Corowa and Jacintha Bezgovsek recording music for film.

ASSI Stories Project - Jessika Bezgovsek animating her short film: "Aunty Valda's Story". © ASSI Stories.
ASSI Stories Project – Jessika Bezgovsek animating her short film: “Aunty Valda’s Story”. © ASSI Stories.

Shooting on Stradbroke Island for Danita Merrypor's film with Georgia Corowa "Wholeheartedly".
Shooting on Stradbroke Island for Danita Merrypor’s film with Georgia Corowa “Wholeheartedly”.

ASSI Stories Workshop with special guests 'Slip on Stereo'.
ASSI Stories Workshop with special guests ‘Slip on Stereo’.

On location shooting Alison Edwards' ASSI Stories short film: Cultural Beginnings - Grassroots.
On location shooting Alison Edwards’ ASSI Stories short film: Cultural Beginnings – Grassroots.


Shooting in Rockhampton with ASSI Stories participants Joanne and Kerry Warkill. © ASSI Stories.
Shooting in Rockhampton with ASSI Stories participants Joanne and Kerry Warkill. © ASSI Stories.

ASSI Stories Workshop 01 © 2014
ASSI Stories Workshop 01 © 2014

This website showcase the works created and acts as a platform share Australian South Sea Islander Stories online.

Australian South Sea Islanders Secretariat Inc. (Brisbane) was the principle project partner in collaboration with Creative Producer and Filmmaker Amie Batalibasi.

The ASSI Stories project is funded by the Australian Council for the Arts.


• to give voice to Australian South Sea Islander Stories;
• to provide ASSI community members with opportunities to learn media production skills;
• to create online educational resources through the stories produced & the project website;
• to share ASSI Stories with the broader community;
• to connect ASSI people and communities offline and online through the Facebook Page, and project website.

Project LINKS:
• ASSIS Inc:
• ASSIS YouTube – ASSI Video Stories:

• Watch the ASSI Stories films online:

• Creative Producer:

Contact ASSI Stories Creative Producer: