I admire the homes that have mushroomed along the riverfront, and remember. This is where we as forgotten and unwanted South Sea islanders once lived. The river meanders down from the mountains through the valley of green sugarcane fields and empties into the blue of the Pacific Ocean.
As a people who worked hard under slave-like conditions to help establish the sugarcane industry, we lived on the fringe of society. We were fringe dwellers. We reached our homes on the riverbank through the farmers' cane fields, but when the farmers no longer used their land for growing cane, they developed it and sold their land for riverfront living.
There are no fringe dwellers along the river now. Even the banking institutions support those who want to build in this residential rural development.
When we couldn't afford timber to build our homes, we'd scrounge local timber from the bush. Sometimes the corrugated iron for the roof and walls was rescued from the flooded river. Eventually some families bought building allotments using a monthly payment plan, but it wasn't until the late 1960s to the mid-1970s that bank loans could be procured--with difficulty.
The Federal Government only recognised the plight of the Australian South Sea islander in 1994, and the Queensland Government in 2000. We were among the most disadvantaged people group in Australia. It was difficult to use mainstream services and, legally, we couldn't use Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services because we weren't indigenous to Australia.
To society we were poor, but in hindsight, at least from my perspective, we were rich. God blessed us in many ways. Living on the fringe of society we enjoyed the beauty of the surrounding country, the fresh country air, home-grown vegetables and heavily laden fruit trees. When we craved sweets, we simply broke off a piece of sugarcane and chewed on it. The river teemed with edible fish, caught by cast nets skilfully
made by our parents. Our swimming pool was the river and we swam soon after we could walk. There were tin canoes for the boys to paddle in, and boats to row across the river to visit relatives.
There was no rent to pay. We enjoyed good health because we either walked or cycled. No-one was obese.
And as I view the upmarket homes built above where we once lived, my mind also goes heavenward. I claim the many promises the Saviour of the world left for those who accept the shedding of His precious blood for their sins, and who fully desire to follow Him.
The Bible promises me equality, a place in heaven and life eternal. So do I envy those who are blessed by their riverfront living? No. I'm looking forward to heaven, the earth made new and eternal life with Jesus. Meanwhile I'll endeavour by the grace of God to spread the good news of salvation by sharing God's promises with others.
In those days, people will live in the houses they build and eat the fruit of their own vineyards. It will not be like the past, when invaders took the houses and confiscated the vineyards. For my people will live as long as trees and will have time to enjoy their hard-won gains. Isaiah 65:21, 22.
Kay Fatnowna is retired and lives in Mackay, Queensland.