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Lammon, Thomas (Tom) (1869–1965)

by Tom Dutton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Thomas (Tom) Lammon (c.1869-1965), indentured labourer, was born about 1869 on the island of Lamenu (also Lamen or Lamon), New Hebrides (Vanuatu), after which he was named. As a youth he was recruited to work on sugar plantations in Queensland. Labourers such as he were commonly known as Kanakas. Even though all but a handful came from Melanesia, they were officially referred to as Polynesians. Tom initially worked in the Ayr district as house-boy, stoker and blacksmith's offsider. He learned to communicate with his European overseers and fellow workers in a form of pidgin English which is now virtually extinct in Queensland, but a derivative, Bislama, has become the national language of Vanuatu.

After his first contract expired, Lammon spent a brief period at home before signing on again and returning to Queensland. What happened next is unclear. Tom said that he worked for a time at the Victoria mill, near Ingham, but other family members claim that he had additional jobs, including that of assistant to a recruiting officer, before he moved to Cairns. There, about 1890, he married Annie Anita (Netta) Bukabuka (or Booka Booka), probably from Buka Island in the Solomons. She had also come to Queensland as an indentured labourer and worked as a domestic servant. She and her husband were to have three sons and two daughters. Before the turn of the century the Lammons had returned to Ingham. Tom worked for the Lynn family at Farnham, near Gairloch Bridge on the Herbert River. He later leased land from the Lynns and grew his own sugar-cane. A very religious man, he joined the Anglican Church and became a lay preacher or catechist. As a result he learned to read and write, to a limited degree.

In 1901 the Federal government's Pacific Island Labourers Act prohibited further recruiting of Kanakas after 31 March 1904 and provided for the repatriation of those in Australia by 31 December 1906. Nevertheless, 1500 to 2000 Melanesians were allowed to stay in Queensland. Tom and his family were among them. By 1919 he was one of the Victoria mill's long-term growers, supplying an estimated 150 tons each year. He gained a reputation as an upright and hard-working man. Having rented different parcels of land from the Lynns until about 1930, the Lammons moved to Ayr. Living beside Plantation Creek with a number of linked New Hebridean families, they eked out an existence selling vegetables and fruit in the streets, and eating wild game and fish caught in the swamps. When Netta died in 1955, Tom moved in with his relations. Aged about 96, he died on 11 August 1965 in Ayr District Hospital and was buried in the local cemetery; a son and a daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. W. Davidson and D. Scarr (eds), Pacific Islands Portraits (Canb, 1970)
  • T. Dutton, Queensland Canefields English of the Late Nineteenth Century (Canb, 1980)
  • C. Moore, Kanaka (Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, 1985).

Citation details

Tom Dutton, 'Lammon, Thomas (Tom) (1869–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lammon-thomas-tom-10779/text19115, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 14 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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