The South Sea Islander records are the original, official documents created under the legal framework that prescribed the operation of the indentured labour system in Queensland. The term South Sea Islander refers to the people from the Western Pacific brought to Queensland as inexpensive labour to work primarily in the sugar industry but also in the pastoral, pearling and marine industries. Over 50,000 South Sea Islanders employed under more than 62,000 contracts came to Queensland from eighty Pacific islands, but primarily the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) and the Solomon Islands.
The records include lists of the labourers and documentation of recruitment, transportation, arrival in Queensland, employment and deportation or exemption from deportation. They show that the practice of engaging indentured labour from the South Sea Islands had
an immediate and lasting impact on the growth and development of Queensland and also provide a tangible connection between this development and the impact on the Islands of the removal of the labour. The collection also provides an important source of information for the descendants of the labourers as well as for researchers.
Through necessity Pidgin English evolved as a means of communication in work environments and as a principal form of inter-group communication in settlements. Pidgin English was taken back to the Pacific Islands and is now the official language of Vanuatu. The records cover a period of extensive labour migration in the Asia-Pacific region and reflect the underpinning philosophies and priorities prevalent at the time. They provide for an understanding of the impact of 19th century regional migration and its impact on social, economic and cultural ties today.