Yumi Olgeta: Crafting a More Inclusive Democracy is a unique collaboration that has formed over the last five years between ASSIPJ, Australian Artist Helen Fraser and the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House in Canberra.  In 2017 Helen joined an international quilt project called the United Declaration of Human Rights Quilt Project developed by Dr Tal Fitzpatrick (Melbourne) and Stephanie Dunlap (USA) which led her to research Australia’s Slave Trade history. 

australia has a slave history too udhr quilt project

Her quilt block in this project was titled “Australia has a Slave History too” and was projected onto the front of Old Parliament House during the Canberra Enlighten Festival in 2019.  It is now part of the Museum of Australian Democracy collection as they purchased the four quilts from this project in 2020.   

As a white, middle aged woman born in country Victoria Helen was shocked and profoundly upset that she did not know about the history of blackbirding.  Wanting a more personal perspective she reached out to Waskam Emelda Davis, Chairwoman of the Australian South Sea Islanders Port Jackson and travelled to Sydney in November 2018 to meet some of the community.  When Elder Auntie Shireen Malaboo said the words “If we tell the truth we will all grow up”, Helen was committed to finding a way to learn and contribute to a more inclusive society where blackbirding is recognised and descendants honoured.

With the help of the creative team at the Museum of Australian Democracy she joined with Emelda, Auntie Lydia George, Danny Togo and the Napen Napen Cultural Women visiting from Vanuatu for a heartfelt conversation about the true history of this nation.  Participants were able to listen while chain stitching an embroidery block Helen designed in collaboration with ASSIPJ to symbolise the calling together of the community with the conch shell.  It was a powerful day of truth-telling and learning.

Due to the success and impact of this first workshop the participants decided to donate their blocks for a commemorative ASSI Quilt.  Helen’s network also contributed so we now have 40 blocks for a colourful border for the quilt.  With the help of the City of Sydney we recently commissioned the Napen Napen Women in Port Vila, Vanuatu to create three custom designed weavings to add significant wording, symbolism and to honour the Yumi 40 Anniversary which has taken place during the project this year. The weavings will be surrounded by a patchwork of culturally symbolic motifs – the frangipani and hibiscus flower, the sugar cane plant and the turtle.   

In collaboration with the City of Sydney and the Australian South Sea Islanders Port Jackson, Helen ran further face to face embroidery and applique workshops on 23rd August 2022 in Sydney to support participants to create one of these four designs which will suit beginners to advanced stitchers.  Participants have been invited to donate their embroidered and appliqued motifs for the centrepiece of the ASSI Commemorative Quilt that will be donated to the Museum of Australian Democracy in August 2023. 


What does Yumi Olgeta mean?

Yumi Olgeta (pronounced 'Yumi Olgeda')  means 'you and me, together' in Bislama language (pronounced 'Bishlama').  This was the way that the Australian South Sea Islanders, kidnapped from over 80 islands of the Vanuatu and Solomon Islands, communicated with one another during the blackbirding period of 1847 and 1908. 

Click on this chain stitch photo to hear a short U-Tube video of Bislama language being spoken....

Our first Workshop

Saturday the 17th August, 2019 at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House, Canberra. 

Yumi olgeta workshop museum of australian democracy canberra

Along with the incredibly dynamic Waskam Emelda Davis, the Chairwoman of the Australian South Sea Islanders - Port Jackson who has blackbirding heritage from the islands of Tanna, Ambae and Santo and proud Torres Strait Islander woman Aunty Lydia George, also with blackbirded heritage from Penticost, Solomon Islands and Lifu, I conducted a Chain Stitch workshop for participants to help them learn a new skill while digesting truth telling and the history of the Australian Slave Trade.  Craft is a great way to relax and take in information in a gentle way that can be easily digested.

Napen Napen Cultural women of Port Vila, Vanuatu

We were also lucky enough to have the company of three women visiting from Vanuatu under a scheme funded by the Vanuatu Government.  Josephine, Anna and Aveline work in Port Vila for the Vanuatu Connection - Arts and Krafts and are very skilled weavers.  They were accompanied by Danny Togo from Sydney, who is on the Board of ASSI-PJ.  Emelda, Josephine, Anne, Aveline and Danny were initially dressed in traditional clothing and right from the start spoke with passion and openness about their history and its impact on them, their families and communities.  There was story-telling,  singing, dancing, tears, laughter, hugging and gift-giving  - it was a truly magical and unforgettable event that taught us all so much.

The chain stitch embroidery design

Participants of the workshop were invited to complete the following design in chain stitch to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Commonwealth recognition for the Australian South Sea Islanders being a distinct cultural group.  The anniversary was on Sunday 25th August, 2019 a week after the workshop.  With the wise assistance of Emelda and Aunty Lydia I came up with this design depicting the custom of blowing the conch shell used to bring the community together on the islands. The doted lines represent the trade routes between islands and Australia.  There were over 800 voyages during the blackbirding period with a total of 62,500 people kidnapped, traded and coerced.

chain stitch embroidery block quilt


To show the possibilities of simple chain stitch, I completed the block using our selected colours from the Australian South Sea Islanders - Port Jackson logo. We are encouraging participants to consider their skill level.  Simple chain can be used effectively for a flat all over finish using the colours provided in the workshop.  

However, participants can also branch out using the instructions given to try 8 other chain stitch styles.  There are approximately 100 different types of chain stitch so there's plenty to learn.  

chain stitch thread embroidery sampler
Click on the photo above to read an article about the Yumi Olgeta Workshop written by Waskam Emelda Davis, Chairwoman of ASSI-PJ

Project 1: 25th Anniversary ASSI Commemorative Quilt 

Aim: To further include ASSI in conversations about Australian history by placing a craftivism object in the MoAD collection.  

Due to the enthusiasm of Yumi Olgeta Workshop participants to contribute their blocks to a Craftivism object, we decided to open up the project to anyone around the world to be all inclusive.  We have collected 38 blocks which will become a beautiful border as well as three intricate weavings from the Napen Napen Women of Vanuatu Arts and Krafts.  We are currently calling out for participants to complete the final pieces of the quilt.  These pieces will be patchworked together around the weavings to form the centrepiece of the quilt.  With help of a grant from the City of Sydney in 2020 we developed a 12 page PDF Embroidery and Applique Instruction Booklet. 

This project is now closed to new volunteers as the quilt is being put together.  You are welcome to join Quilt 2 which is taking volunteers.  If you have an outstanding motif for Quilt 1, please send to Helen Fraser Artist, P O Box 36, Gisborne, Victoria, 3437, Australia by end of February 2024.  

CLICK HERE for the free Instruction Booklet for Quilt 1. 

We would love you to join our project to bring further recognition to Australia's Slave Trade history of blackbirding and to give the descendants of Australian slavery a voice in the Museum of Australian Democracy, Old Parliament House in Canberra.  The finished quilt will be donated to the Museum in 2024.

What will happen to your embroidery?

Helen recently collaborated with ASSIPJ and the Napen Napen Cultural Women/Vanuatu Arts and Krafts to come up with three weaving designs to add wording and cultural symbolism to the quilt. In August 2022,  Helen will run embroidery and applique workshops to help the descendants of blackbirding and the general public create culturally appropriate motifs to be patchworked into the quilt centrepiece around the central weaving. To keep an organic feel to the finished work the quilt will be hand quilted.  The finished work will be presented to the Museum of Australian Democracy in August 2023. This means the whole process will have taken four years at least to complete, highlighting the slow nature of stitching and the power of the group taking one step - or stitch - at a time, together in the spirit of Yumi Olgeta. 

Australian South Sea Islanders Port Jackson

(Otherwise known as ASSIPJ)

australian south sea islanders vanuatu

Australian South Sea Islanders (Port Jackson) (ASSIPJ) was formed in Sydney NSW with the support of an elder’s council and younger ASSI community leaders in 2010. The purpose of ASSIPJ was to build on past and continue the much-needed advocacy work that will eventually see the truth told of a history that is challenging, conflicting and very complex for the descendants of Australia’s Blackbirding trade.

The ASSIPJ journey has been one of both extreme frustration and heartache as well as breakthrough and joy as we worked for the recognition of some 60,000 Melanesian men and women that were stolen, culturally kidnapped and displaced from the eighty islands of Vanuatu and Solomons. This included many children who were not documented on ship-logs. These people were forced into a Sugar Slave trade and worked alongside First Nations peoples in pastoral, maritime and other industries that established the economic base of our country.

Today, 175 years later, the work of ASSIPJ and many ASSI organisations continues to advocate for inclusion, with minimal progress. This in a country that prides itself on Diversity and Inclusion through Multiculturalism as part of the great Australian narrative.

2019 marked the 25th Anniversary of the recognition of Australian South Sea Islanders by the 1994 Keating Government as suffering severe discrimination and racism. The recognition by that Government of the community as a ‘distinct cultural group’ who valued our islands of origin and cultural heritage promised greater inclusion in programs and services. 


To make a Donation to ASSIPJ

Commonwealth Account BSB 062020  Account No: 10251466

ASSI-PJ are a registered charity with ANCN. Go to  https://www.assipj.com.au/not-for-profits for details.

You may like to become an Associate Member of ASSI-PJ or follow them on Social Media.  You can do this via their website - just clink on the photo above and the social media links are at the bottom of their website along with the member registration form download.

Any support is greatly appreciated as they are running their organisation with low funding at this stage.