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Wed, 31 May 2017

Mabo Legacy public seminar

James Cook University is marking the 25th anniversary of the High Court’s landmark Mabo decision with a public seminar this afternoon.

Jointly hosted by The Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Centre and The Cairns Institute, the seminar will feature five distinguished speakers, all with close personal and professional connections to North Queensland: artist Gail Mabo, daughter of the late Eddie Koiki Mabo, actor Jimi Bani, JCU senior lecturer and researcher Dr Felecia Watkin Lui, lawyer Kevin Smith and Cape York activist Bruce Martin.

JCU researcher Dr Felecia Watkin Lui said the seminar would reflect on the long struggle by Eddie Koiki Mabo and his fellow plaintiffs Sam Passi, David Passi, Celuia Mapo Salee and James Rice, who began working on their case against the Queensland Government during the repressive Bjelke Petersen era.

“Despite the efforts of a state government that had extraordinary powers to control their lives, and which sought to extinguish their claims of ownership of their land, they eventually won – when the highest court in the land acknowledged their sovereignty,” Dr Watkin Lui said.

“It’s from that basis of sovereignty that we can now have the important discussions about recognition, the constitution, and representation that have just taken place at Uluru. For that we thank and honour those plaintiffs.”

In June 1992 the High Court found that the Meriam people did have traditional ownership of their land, and that British possession had not eliminated their title.

The 25th anniversary of the decision also marks the 25th year of the Torres Strait flag and the 25th year since Eddie Koiki Mabo’s death, just months before the High Court handed down its decision.

“This is a time for us to recognise what was achieved in the Mabo case and to revisit that battle, begun in the harshest of circumstances,” Dr Watkin Lui said.

“It’s also a time to celebrate what progress has been made since, in just two and half decades, as well as looking to the future.

“Many of us are impatient for further change, and there are criticisms from different quarters as to what the Native Title legislation, which followed the Mabo decision, has or has not delivered.

“But what I think we can all agree on is that it is this case, and this High Court decision, that enables us to look to the future from the standpoint of sovereignty, as the recognised, first-nation owners of this land.”

The speakers at today’s seminar:

  • Gail Mabo, daughter of Eddie Koiki Mabo, is an artist whose work includes reflections on the changes witnessed in the 25 years since her father’s death and the High Court decision.
  • Actor Jim Bani’s screen credits include RAN (Remote Area Nurse) and The Straits. On stage he has featured in productions including Jandamarra, Romeo and Juliet and The Sapphires. In 2012 he played the lead role in the tele-movie Mabo.
  • Felecia Watkin Lui is a senior lecturer and researcher in the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Centre at James Cook University in Cairns.
  • Kevin Smith has over 20 years experience in Indigenous affairs, including senior positions with the National Secretariat of Torres Strait Islander Organisations, the Torres Strait Islander Legal Service and the National Native Title Tribunal.
  • Bruce Martin is based in Cairns and is working on a number of projects with his mother’s Wik people. He has worked with the Cape York Land Council and Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation on projects including land tenure and management arrangements on Cape York.