Celebrating Mabo's courage
First published 30 May 2012
James Cook University will recognise the 20th anniversary of the historic ‘Mabo Decision’ this week.
Eddie Koiki Mabo was a Torres Strait Islander, known for his role in campaigning for Indigenous land rights and for the landmark decision of the High Court of Australia that overturned the legal doctrine of terra nullius ('land belonging to nothing, no one') which characterised Australian law with regards to land and title.
Mr Mabo worked as a gardener at JCU in Townsville, and in 1974 he had a discussion with two JCU academics, Noel Loos and Henry Reynolds, about his land on Mer, or Murray Island, and his right to it.
In 1981, a land rights conference was held at JCU and Mabo made a speech to the audience where he explained the land inheritance system on Mer.
The significance of this in terms of Australian common law doctrine was taken note of by one of the attendees, a lawyer, who suggested there should be a test case to claim land rights through the court system.
The final outcome of that case on June 3, 1992, changed the history of Australia.
On Friday June 1, Professor Reynolds, one of the original participants in the Mabo saga, will present the 2012 Mabo Lecture at JCU’s Townsville campus.
Mabo - 20 Years on. Did it change the Nation? will be held at the Sir George Kneipp Auditorium, and video-conferenced to B1.031 (Library) Cairns campus
JCU Vice-Chancellor Professor Sandra Harding said JCU had a special connection with Eddie Koiki Mabo and was commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Mabo decision through two significant events being held at the Townsville campus this week.
“Firstly, Professor Reynolds will deliver the annual Mabo Lecture and then on Sunday, June 3, we will join with the Mabo family to host an afternoon of activities at the Eddie Koiki Mabo Library on the Townsville campus.”
Professor Harding said the celebrations would start with a Welcome to Country and Smoking Ceremony at 2.00pm on the southern side of the Eddie Koiki Mabo Library.
Professor Harding said there were significant milestones in the reconciliation journey in 2012.
“Each year, National Reconciliation Week is held throughout Australia,” she said.
“National Sorry Day is commemorated on May 26, May 27 marks the anniversary of the successful 1967 referendum and 3 June commemorates the High Court Mabo decision.
“This year is especially significant as it marks the 50th anniversary of the Indigenous right to vote, the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Tent Embassy and the 20th anniversary of the Mabo decision.”
Professor Henry Reynolds
Recognised today as a leading public intellectual, Professor Reynolds transformed the study of history in Australia. It was his works that destroyed forever the notion of peaceful conquest of Australia by Europeans and revealed the darker side of that history. His book, The Other Side of the Frontier, published in 1981, used a combination of documentary sources and oral history to reveal the process of Australian colonisation in the 19th Century from the viewpoint of the colonised. It was followed by many others including Law of the Land, which investigated Indigenous land rights and the legal framework of colonisation.
The work that Professor Reynolds and Associate Professor Noel Loos, his co-researcher and fellow oral historian at JCU, did with Eddie Koiki Mabo is seen as highly significant in encouraging Eddie to put forward his famous case for land rights over his native island of Mer. His friendship with Eddie Mabo, then a gardener at JCU, began because he sought him out in order to hear his stories.
An inspiring speaker and author, he has influenced generations of students at JCU and the University of Tasmania to examine various aspects of race relations. He has given the general public authoritative and accessible information to help them develop their opinions over various aspects of race and ethnic debates. In 1997 the National Trust named him one of Australia's 100 Living Treasures.
2012 Mabo Lecture
Mabo - 20 Years on. Did it change the Nation?
12.00pm, Friday 1 June
Sir George Kneipp Auditorium Townsville Campus
Video-conferenced to B1.031 (Library) Cairns Campus
A full program of events will be sent in a following email.
JCU Media contact: Caroline Kaurila (07) 4781 4586 or 0437 028 175.