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Audio Bonita Mabo recalls Eddie Mabo’s land rights battle, 2008

TLF ID R9396

This is an edited sound recording of Bonita Mabo, widow of Indigenous land rights activist Eddie Mabo. She recalls how her husband declared he would fight for recognition as the owner of his traditional land on Mer Island, also known as Murray Island, in the Torres Strait after learning it was officially regarded as crown land. She describes how there was opposition to his campaign from some fellow Torres Strait Islanders, and how even on his deathbed he was confident he would win. The recording was made in June 2008.





Educational details

Educational value
  • This is a firsthand account of the attitudes of Edward 'Eddie' Koiki Mabo (1936-92), whose fight for land rights on Mer culminated in the historic decision by the High Court of Australia on 3 June 1992 to recognise native title as a form of land ownership. The Court overturned the concept of 'terra nullius' (land belonging to no-one), which had formed the basis for large areas of land in Australia being declared crown land after British colonisation in 1788.
  • Bonita Mabo (1943-) tells how Eddie Mabo became angrily determined to have his traditional land on Mer recognised as his own after learning that it was officially regarded as government owned. He had learned that it was regarded as crown land in 1974 during a conversation with Professor Henry Reynolds and Associate Professor Noel Loos at James Cook University in Townsville. At the time, Mabo worked at the university as a gardener.
  • Bonita Mabo reveals that not all Torres Strait Islanders were supportive of Eddie Mabo's campaign, which actually began after a land rights conference at James Cook University in 1981. She states that some were against him and that even in 2008 'to a certain extent' many still did not understand it. She says some Torres Strait Islanders believed his campaign was self-centred, but she points out he could only fight for recognition of ownership of his own land.
  • Bonita Mabo tells how Eddie Mabo declared that he was going to win his fight for recognition as a traditional landowner on Mer throughout his High Court action, which lasted from 1982 to 1992. She recalls that he gave her a stern look whenever she tried to raise the possibility of him losing. His confidence in winning continued through to his death in Brisbane on 21 January 1992. The High Court ruled in his favour less than five months later, by a majority of six to one.
  • Although the Eddie Mabo case was brought by a Torres Strait Islander and involved land in the Torres Strait, the High Court ruling was held to have application on the Australian mainland. It prompted federal government legislation in 1993 that laid out procedures for dealing with native title claims. Hundreds of such applications have since been made. The law now recognises that Indigenous Australians have rights to land arising from traditional laws and customs.

Other details

Contributors
  • Author
  • Person: Bonita Mabo
  • Description: Author
  • Contributor
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Content provider
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL: http://www.esa.edu.au/
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Person: Bonita Mabo
  • Description: Author
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL: http://www.esa.edu.au/
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL: http://www.esa.edu.au/
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL: www.esa.edu.au
Access profile
  • Colour independence
  • Device independence
Learning Resource Type
  • Audio
Rights
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements.