Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A poignant story: From Marinduque to Broome (Western Australia) in 1891

Bumibiyahe na pala sa iba't ibang bansa ang mga Pilipino para makahanap ng trabaho noong 1800's pa lamang. Isa na rito si Thomas (Tomas) Puertollano, tubong Suha, Sta. Cruz, Marinduque na naglakbay papuntang Australia. Ito ay para sa isang peligrosong hanapbuhay: ang pagsisid at pagkolekta ng mga perlas.


"...We were considered under the Western Australian government as flora and fauna. So were part of the flora and fauna policies that state government had. You could not own land... You were segregated from the European community and you were used to do pearling and all that sort of thing without wages... We were considered as wildlife, as nomadic people." (Kevin Puertollano)
Fr, Martin Puertollano of Sta. Cruz was key in unearthing the old records of Thomas and the Puertollanos from the Sta. Cruz Church baptismal archives. Screencap from i-Witness

Deborah Ruiz-Wall, a Filipino-Australian journalist and researcher who specializes in Aboriginal studies and oral history wrote for this I-Witness documentary by Howie Severino the following:


Estranghero sa kalooban ng bayan
Damdamin ay nagising sa haplos ng kaluluwa
Ng lahing itinangay ng agos
Namumunong agos sa Broome at Torres Straits
Pilipino ay lumitaw sa pampang
At di na bumalik sa pusod ng pinagmulan
Dito na rin sila yumao
Iinilibing ang kanilang kayumangging alabok
Na ngayoy kasalamuha ng lupaing pula at karagatang bughaw

So, from Marinduque in 1891, Thomas Puertollano sailed to Broome, Western Australia along with other Filipinos to dive for pearls, to live there and never to return. And they were called

Manila Men



(An I-Witness documentary, first airing on GMA-7 Saturday, November 26, 2016, 11pm)

For most of his life, aboriginal Australian Kevin Puertollano had wondered about the Filipino great grandfather he never met.

Twenty-one-year-old Thomas (Tomas) Puertollano left his coastal village in Marinduque in 1891 never to return.

He joined thousands of other young men from around Asia in a boom town in northwestern Australia where they became pearl divers. The Filipinos in this migration wave were all called Manila Men regardless of their origins.

Pearl diving was good money but a very dangerous job, exposing divers to sharks and saltwater crocodiles as they spent up to eight hours a day in heavy suits on the sea floor gathering shells.

Thomas married an aboriginal woman and became a respected member of Australian society, yet was never granted citizenship. He started a family that up to now still cooks adobo and retains the Catholic religiosity of their forebear.

125 years later, accompanied by his sister and cousin, Kevin finally journeys for the first time to Thomas's homeland and connects with relatives in Marinduque he never met.

Howie Severino and his documentary team witness this unusual clan reunion and decide to follow Kevin back to Australia.

There they meet the rest of Kevin's musical and close-knit family, and hear of the painful struggles of aborigines and other minorities in Australia.

They also learn of Thomas's own heart-breaking tragedies towards the end of his life.

Kevin, his sister Roma, and their cousin Patricia brought something back from Marinduque, and in a simple ceremony at Thomas's grave, use it to reconnect him to his homeland at last. (Howie Severino)

Reconnecting Thomas to his homeland with something from Marinduque. 
Screen cap from i-Witness

“Manila Men” by Deborah Ruiz-Wall features stories narrated by descendants of the Filipino immigrants called "Manila Men" who came to Australia in the late 1800’s. Their work primarily revolved around pearl farming in the areas of Broome and Torres Straits in Australia. Ruiz-Wall’s book compiles and documents these descendants’ search for their Filipino roots.

Book launch was held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) with its President, Dr. Raul Sunico, Australian Ambassador Amanda Gorely, and the author herself who welcomed these descendants of the first “Manila Men” – now balikbayans - at the book launch.

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