South Pacific Islanders on a sugar plantation in Cairns 1890 (Image: State Library of Queensland)

It wasn’t just determination and hard yakka that built Australia’s prosperity. It was unpaid, coercive and forced labour off the backs of black workers.

Australia’s history of slavery is -- as Prime Minister Scott Morrison made apparent yesterday  -- poorly understood and often denied. (The PM has today apologised and sought to clarify his statement.)

But the fact is, either through slavery, servitude, exploitation or stolen wages, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders — and men kidnapped from Melanesia — played a massive role in developing Australia into the wealthy country it is today.