Blackbirding involves the enforced slavery and removal of individuals from their native lands. This practice took place throughout islands in the Pacific Ocean in the 19th and 20th Century, with many individuals forced to work on plantations in Australia, among other colonial settlements. In texts about blackbirding there are sporadic references to spaces that Pacific Islanders, specifically Melanesians, frequented: Spear fishing at Cudgen creek, a gathering on ‘islander hill’, and the mango trees in Broader Duranbah. These spaces were lost with the introduction of the Pacific Island Labourers Act 1901. In line with the White Australia Policy, the Pacific Island Labourers Act increased the proportion of white labourers by enabling the subsequent deportation of Pacific Islanders found in Australia after 1906. Exemptions could be judged on ‘ties established in Australia and compliance with Australian values’, though few were granted. This period of deportation, assimilation and the threat of being identified as an Islander, resulted in the erasure of many communities of Melanesians and made it difficult to assert Melanesian heritage through identity or place.
Gardiner seeks to reimagine these places through his practice, which blends photographs with digital images drawn from images of the Pacific by NGOs and national museums. It is a form of repurposing. Gardiner notes '[l]ately, I've been noting areas around me that I'm drawn to for their resemblance to the islands, and creating a vague imagining of how these spaces might have been occupied by Melanesians during that time.'