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Copyright 2001 K.Sigrah & S. King All Rights Reserved

Come Meet the Banabans [1] website was first created and launched in 1993 by Australian woman, Stacey King. The Banaban people are the indigenous inhabitants from a small remote Pacific Island, originally called Ocean Island. Today the Island is known by its indigenous name - Banaba.

 

In 1900, one of the richest deposits of phosphate rock was discovered, and Britain quickly placed the Island under Colonial rule. Over the next eighty years, the Banabans would become the victims of one of the worst cases of environmental and human exploitation during the past century.

 

Four generations of Stacey King’s family were involved with the early phosphate mining industry on Banaba during a thirty-year period. During this time, her great grandfather, John Williams became an avid photographer using dry glass plate processing. His photographs chronicled not only the early mining history but also offered a valuable insight into Banaban village life capturing Banaban bangabanga (subterraneous water caves), the sport of frigate bird taming, traditional games and sacred bangota (shrines) and terraces.

 

 

 

Discovering old family photographs unleashed a quest for justice

 

It was not until 1990 after years of her mother’s urging and the discovery of hundreds of Williams’s old photographs that Stacey would feel compelled to research her family’s history. She was surprised by the wealth of information they provided and the authentic glimpse of the past that supported many family stories she had been told over the years. Her first step in uncovering further information was just a few handwritten names scrawled on the back of some of the images.

 

With the internet still in its infancy, the slow process of letter writing and searching libraries began. Initially, this research was focused on her family and used to assist in the writing of a book based on her family’s pioneering days. However, as the informants, mainly ex BPC (British Phosphate Commission) staff grew to more than 50 people, they also provided information including personal accounts and other source material held in other private collections.

Learning from the past

 

As the material mounted, Stacey created a database she aptly named, Ocean Island Chronicles (1991). This proved to be one of the most useful and essential tools organising information into chronological order and enabled cross-referencing of people and data to build a picture of early Colonial life on the Island through to modern times.

 

In September 1992, she travelled to Rabi Island, Fiji [2] to meet the Banabans for the first time. They had been moved to Fiji in 1945 after World War II where the majority of Banaba’s traditional landowners reside today. Stacey believed it was imperative to return copies of the Williams Collection, especially those relating to Banaban life, back to the community. During her visit to the Rabi’s only High School, she began to realise how important these documents were for the young generation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Please help tell our story ...”

 

Stacey was soon to discover that in Banaban custom ‘gift-giving’ was deemed a personnel matter and usually not shared with others. She found there was nowhere on Rabi where these historical items and artefacts could be put on public display. This Banaban custom became the catalyst for her idea to establish a community library that all Banabans could access. This idea was endorsed by Banaban Elders during one of her meetings with them, and they asked if she could also ‘help tell their story’.

 

“It was impossible to walk away... “

 

Stacey left Rabi realising it was impossible to walk away without trying to assist the community. Before her Rabi visit, she had been interviewed by a local Brisbane radio station about the book she had written on her family’s life on Banaba (Naaka’s Awakening). This programme generated an influx of telephone calls and letters from other past BPC staff and their families.

“I never had a clue how to work a computer in the late 1980s let alone learn DOS and HTML coding”

 

During the same year and with the advancement of the Internet, Stacey was keen to use this technology to expand information gathering and build public awareness for the Banabans. She was also fortunate to have the support of local Gold Coast start-up service provider, Ion Services and then the sponsorship of one of Australia’s most successful software entrepreneurs at the time, Steve Outtrim [3] the founder and creator of Sausage Software out of Melbourne.

Stacey recalls,

“I suppose I was lucky that my brother was a bit of a genius and built his first XT computer [4]. He ended up giving it to me in the late 1980s, and I didn’t have a clue how to use it, let alone the DOS-style of computer language required to work it".

After many hours of teaching herself HTML coding and a pressing need to build a website to get the message of the Banabans out there to a global audience, she launched the first Banaban website on the Gold Coast in 1993.

 

At last the Banabans had a global voice

 

The launch of the website quickly assisted in the building on an international network of people that would go on to form the Banaban Heritage Society, a not for profit organisation with the following aims:

  • To provide a global voice for our Banaban community and encourage participation.

  • To welcome and embrace worldwide communication with everyone regardless of race, or creed.

  • To uphold Banaban heritage and through education, help prevent events from the past ever happening again.

  • To build links to the outside world for a very isolated community

 

Today the site has been greatly expanded and revamped to provide a myriad of information and original material. In 2004 the site was endorsed by the Rabi Council of Leaders as the official Banaban website (http://www.banaban.com).

 

 

 

1. Original Banaban site address http://www.ion.com.au/~banaban 1993 when first launched in 1993.

2. The Banabans were forcibly removed from their homeland by the Japanese during World War II and relocated to Rabi Island, Fiji in December 1945 by the British Colonial government to allow unfettered mining of Ocean Island, Banaba.

3. IBM Personal Computer (commonly known as an IBM Personal Computer originally designed for business users https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_Personal_Computer

4. Sausage_Software - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sausage_Software

ABOUT

How it all began...

Banaba-Ocean Island News
Banaban historic photograph collection O

By February-March 1993 King decided to condense her letter-writing into one general mail out which she called, Banaba/Ocean Island Newsletter. This first issue consisted of two pages addressed ‘to those people interested in the history of Banaba/Ocean Island’.

 

The newsletter proved a useful resource for not only sourcing material but also assisted with the implementation of various Banaban aid projects that followed.