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2020 Lecture: Professor Henry Reynolds

The Foundation for Australian Literary Studies partnered with JCU to present a special Roderick Memorial and JCU Last Lecture event on 28th October 2020. The teams were delighted to host former lecturer and one of Australia's pioneers of the history of White/Aboriginal relations, Professor Henry Reynolds.

‘I became an Australian historian in Townsville as a result of teaching Australian history for the first time….beginning research in the north and about the north….and above all by living and working in Townsville for more than thirty years. My contribution to Australian intellectual life has been intimately connected with those years that I spent in Townsville’, Reynolds.

Born and educated in Tasmania before moving to London and then Townsville, Reynolds has published twenty books many of which were best sellers and awarded literary prizes. He is best known for his pioneering work on the history of settler-indigenous relations which became widely known with the publication of The Other Side of the Frontier in 1981. It was this publication that attracted the attention of many.

During his time in North Queensland Reynolds struck up a friendship with Murray Islander Eddie Mabo. Eddie was a groundsman at the university and the two often talked about Mabo's people's rights to their lands, on Murray Island, in the Torres Strait.

In his book 'Why Weren't We Told?', Reynolds describes the talks he had with Eddie:

Eddie [...] would often talk about his village and about his own land, which he assured us would always be there when he returned because everyone knew it belonged to his family. His face shone when he talked of his village and his land.

So intense and so obvious was his attachment to his land that I began to worry about whether he had any idea at all about his legal circumstances. [...] I said something like: "You know how you've been telling us about your land and how everyone knows it's Mabo land? Don't you realise that nobody actually owns land on Murray Island? It's all crown land."

He was stunned. [...] How could the whitefellas question something so obvious as his ownership of his land?

Reynolds looked into the issue of indigenous land ownership in international law, and encouraged Mabo to take the matter to court.

The rest is now history!