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MABO Teacher Notes History

Included in this document: Overview Classroom Discussion Topics Government Policy MABO Key Personality Backgrounds Timeline Text MABO Documentary Resources OVERVIEW In 1973 Eddie Koiki Mabo was shocked to discover that the land on Murray Island passed down by his ancestors for over sixteen generations was not legally recognised as his own. Rather than accept this injustice, Eddie began an epic ten-year fight for Australian law to recognise traditional land rights. Eddie never lived to see his land returned to him but the name Mabo is now one of the most significant names in Australian history. In 1992, at only 55, Eddie died of cancer. Five months later the High Court of Australia overturned the doctrine of terra nullius. The story of Eddie Koiki Mabo and the key events, ideas and political upheavals he experienced gives an important insight into Australian values in the latter half of the 20th century. Studying Eddie Koiki Mabo and the way his activism challenged and changed Australian law, will help students develop historical understanding in line with the Australian History Curriculum. Students will develop their historical knowledge and understanding by: Investigating the key events, people and ideas: The historical context Historical agents and key movements. Evaluating significant historical debates: The causes, course and consequences Competing and complementary perspectives and interpretations.

Working with sources: A wide range of appropriate sources are located and interrogated Evaluation of sources and debates are undertaken. ACARA Australian Curriculum: History. Draft Consultation version 1.1.0 MABO provides an opportunity to develop student appreciation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, understanding of the Indigenous struggle for recognition and respect for the quest for equality in Australia. MABO also presents relevant subjects for discussion such as government policy, political issues and values. CLASSROOM DISCUSSION TOPICS HISTORICAL AND POLITICAL Historical Background of terra nullius First Nation Australians Indigenous Culture Nomadic and Agrarian Lifestyles The Stolen Generations Government Policy Platforms for National Debate The Role of Leaders Political Rights Methods of Protest Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Protection Act Racism in Australia Australian Court System Civil Rights Union Movement Land Rights Commission Native Title Act 1993 (the Mabo Bill) Myths and fears after the passing of the Native Title Act Reconciliation Aboriginal Tent Embassy SOCIAL AND CULTURAL Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Society and Culture Meriam Law Meriam Language Torres Strait Cultural Heritage Traditional Agriculture Cultural Value of Legends Relationship to the Land Missionaries and the influence of Christianity Struggle for Recognition Personal Cost of Leadership Legacy of the Past Self-determination Personal Equality Impact of Exile Family Belonging Assimilation Social Change Australian Values 20th Century Australian Society Attitudes

GOVERNMENT POLICY Indigenous issues are often considered with reference to the official Government policy at the time. In chronological order, these are: Protection/paternalism Stolen Generations Assimilation Integration Self-determination Reconciliation The Northern Territory Intervention Closing the Gap MABO KEY PERSONALITY BACKGROUNDS Eddie Koiki Mabo Edward Koiki Mabo was born on Mer (Murray) Island in 1936, and was adopted by his uncle, Benny Mabo, shortly following his mothers death. Eddie was exiled from the Island when he was 16, and worked across northern Queensland and the Torres Strait before settling in Townsville with his young family in 1962. Here he was elected president of Yumba Meta, an association purchasing homes in Townsville using Commonwealth funds. He also established Australias first Black Community School in 1973. In 1982 Eddie Koiki Mabo and four other Torres Strait Islanders initiated legal action in the Supreme Court of Queensland claiming customary ownership of their lands on Murray Island. It was not until 1990 that Justice Martin Moynihan handed down his judgement. He was highly critical of Eddie Koiki Mabo, and his claim to land on Murray Island was rejected. Rather than appeal the decision, Eddie decided to proceed with the hearings before a full bench of the High Court of Australia. Proceedings concluded in 1991, but before the Courts decision overturning terra nullius was delivered in 1992, Eddie had fallen ill and died. Following the desecration of Mabos grave in Townsville in 1995, his body was re-interred on Murray Island. On the night of his burial, Islanders performed the sacred Malo dance in honour of Eddie Koiki Mabo. Bonita Mabo Bonita Mabo (ne Nehow) was born in Halifax, North Queensland. Her mothers ancestors are from nearby Palm Island. Her fathers ancestors are Kanakas, a South Sea Island people from the Tanna Islands, near Vanuatu, initially removed to Australia to work as cane cutters in Queensland. Bonita met Eddie Koiki Mabo in 1958 in a shanty town on the edge of a sugar plantation, and they married at the Methodist Church in Ingham, North Queensland, the following year. Bonita always supported Eddies fight for native title to be recognised on Murray Island. Since his death in 1992, she has also been a leading voice in support of the rights of the South Sea Islanders living in Australia. Ron Castan Aaron Ronald Castan was a prominent human rights lawyer. He graduated from the Melbourne Law School with the Supreme Court Prize, and earned his masters degree at Harvard. For several years he was a Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commissioner, and was president of the Victorian Council of Civil Liberties. But it is for his commitment to Indigenous rights that Ron Castan is best remembered. He was the founding secretary of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service and, before

the Mabo case, Castan played leading roles in the first native title case Milirrpum v Nabalco (Gove Land Rights Case) and the Koowarta v Bjelke-Peterson case. He was senior counsel in the Mabo case, which abolished the doctrine of terra nullius in Australia. Following Mabo, Ron Castan continued to advocate on behalf of Indigenous Australians until his death in 1999. The former Australian Democrats senator, Aden Ridgeway, called him the white warrior against racism. Patrick Killoran PJ (Pat) Killoran was a Queensland bureaucrat who, for a number of years, headed that states Department of Aboriginal and Islander Affairs. He was Protector on Thursday Island before being made Director of the Sub-Department of Native Affairs in 1964, a position he held until his retirement in 1985. Killoran remained opposed to the payment of award wages to Indigenous workers. He oversaw the police raid on an Aboriginal community at Mapoon on the Cape York Peninsula. Families were forced from their homes which were then burnt to the ground. The families were then involuntarily relocated 200 kilometres away to form the community of New Mapoon. Killoran also ran as a National Party candidate for the Queensland state seat of Cook (which included Cape York and the Torres Strait) in 1983, but attracted just 17 per cent of the vote. Patrick Killoran died in 2010. Justice Martin Moynihan Justice Martin Moynihan, born into one of Queensland's most famous legal families, received a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Queensland and worked in private practice for nearly 20 years; four of those as a Queen's Counsel. He appeared at commissions of inquiry into drug trafficking, mining on Moreton Island and drilling on the Great Barrier Reef. In 1984 he was appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland, and spent 16 years as the Senior Judge Administrator. He is perhaps best known for his involvement in the Mabo case, which was sent back to the Queensland Supreme Court in order to determine disputed facts. The High Court relied on Moynihan's findings in making its decision to recognise native title in Australia. He was Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commissioner in 2010 and 2011, and was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2003. Bryan Keon-Cohen Bryan Keon-Cohen QC was educated at the Scotch College, Melbourne, and graduated from Melbourne University in 1975. He has appeared in several Constitutional cases before the High Court including the Tasmanian Dams Case, Chan, both Mabo cases (where he acted as a junior counsel) and Wik. He has continued to act in several native title claims and frequently appears on behalf of parties alleging breaches of human rights and civil liberties, including the stolen generation. He was a committee member of the Victorian Council for Civil Liberties for over 15 years, and in 2012 was awarded a Member in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AM) for his services to the legal profession.

TIMELINE TEXT (as featured on the MABO Website) YEAR 1770 1788 1838 EVENT Lieutenant James Cook claims east coast of Australia on behalf of Britain. Captain Arthur Phillip raises the Union Jack at Sydney Cove and the occupation begins. There are several acts of violence against Aboriginal people in New South Wales and Victoria, including the Myall Creek Massacre. A group of colonists round up and kill a group of 28 aboriginal people, mostly women and children. Aboriginal men, women and children are killed by police in the Pilbara region of Western Australia following the death of a white pastoralist at the hands of one of his Aboriginal workers. The 1927 Wood Royal Commission found that 11 Aboriginal people were killed, but accounts vary. According to an ABC report from 1973, the remains of a hundred or so are buried at a single site. Hundreds of Aboriginal workers walk off 20 sheep stations in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The stockmen were granted award wages in 1949, but many never returned to their stations. The strike was not a complete success, and the struggle for equal wages continued with the 1966 Wave Hill strike. The Maralinga Tjarutja people are removed from their land near the South Australian/Western Australian border to make way for British nuclear testing at Maralinga. It is later discovered that a traditional Aboriginal route passed through the testing range, and that local Indigenous populations had continued to move throughout the region while the tests were going on. The Yolngu people of Yirrkala presented a bark petition to Federal Parliament requesting a parliamentary inquiry into a government decision to grant bauxite mining on their traditional land. The petition now hangs in Parliament House, Canberra. Stockmen and women at Wave Hill walk-off in protest at pay and working conditions. A camp is established at Wattie Creek, and strikers demand the return of some traditional lands. A royal tour of Australia coincides with celebrations marking the bicentenary celebrations of James Cooks arrival in 1770, resulting in protests from many Indigenous Australians. Milirrpum v Nabalco (Gove Land Rights Case) is heard in the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory. It is the first native title case to go before an Australian court. Justice Richard Blackburn found in favour of Nabalco. This decision was later overturned in the second Mabo case. An Aboriginal Tent Embassy is established outside MEDIA


Forrest River Massacre, ABC This Day Tonight 27 July 1973


Pilbara Strike Walk Off, ABC News 28 May 1974

1950s 1960s

ABC Archives - 1956


Yirrkala Bark Petition, ABC News 13 October 1963




Wave Hill Walk Off, ABC Four Corners: The Price of Equality 30 Sept 1966 Aboriginies and Cook Bicentenary Celebrations, ABC News 29 April 1970 Gove Land Rights Case, ABC Four Corners, 28 April 1971 Aboriginal Tent



Parliament House (now Old Parliament House) to demonstrate for land rights. It was dismantled by police in July. The Whitlam Government sets up the Woodward Aboriginal Land Rights Commission to inquire into the issue of land rights. Nine years after walking off the job at Wave Hill, Gurundji people are handed back a large parcel of land at Wattie Creek by Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. The Yuin people at Lake Wallaga, on the south coast of New South Wales, seek to own and administer the land there themselves. A state parliamentary conducts a hearing on the shores of the lake for what is, effectively, the first land rights hearing in NSW. The 'Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act' is passed by the Federal Parliament. The legislation was first proposed in 1975 by the Labor government, and reintroduced in an amended form the Coalition government in 1976, providing only for Aboriginal land claims based on traditional affiliations. The Queensland Government seizes control of the Aurukun and Mornington Island Aboriginal reserves. The Federal Government intervenes, passing an act allowing for selfmanagement of the reserves on 7th April, 1978. The State Government contests this, but continued negotiation results in the Local Government (Aboriginal Lands) Act in May, transferring land leases to the shires of Aurukun and Mornington. A dispute between the Noonkanbah community and Amax Mining (in search of iron ore) sees police and the mining operation evicted from the area. Amax return months later, and no ore is found. The Brisbane Commonwealth Games are marked by demonstrations to bring international media attention to the plight of Aboriginal people in Australia, including lands rights issues. About 2,000 people marched in Brisbane on September 26, 1982 and demonstrations continued throughout the Games, resulting in hundreds of arrests. In a ceremony at Uluru, previously known as Ayers Rock, the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park is returned to its traditional owners, the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people, despite objections from the Federal Opposition and Northern Territory Government. The land was immediately leased back to the Australian Parks and Wildlife Service for a period of 99 years. To mark the bicentenary of white settlement, thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from around Australia converge on Sydney to protest for land rights. They are joined by thousands of white supporters.

Embassy Canberra, ABC News 1 July 1972 Woodward Royal Commission, ABC News 31 May 1973 Wattie Creek Land Handover, ABC Radio AM 18.8.1975 Wallaga Lake Land Rights, ABC News 17 August 1976




Aboriginal Land Rights, ABC News 10 November 1975


ABC Radio National PM 7 April 1978


Noonkanbah, ABC News 3 August 1980


Commonwealth Games Demonstrations, ABC News 6 October 1982


Uluru Land Returned, ABC News 27 October 1985


Aboriginal Protestors March in Sydney, ABC News 26 January 1988





The High Court of Australia delivered a judgement in the Mabo v Queensland (No.1) case, finding that the Queensland Coast Island Declaratory Act of 1985 (which sought to abolish native title) was inconsistent with the Racial Discrimination Act. The finding helped pave the way for the Courts 1992 finding in favour of the Murray Islanders. The High Court issues the reasons for judgement in the Mabo case (Mabo (no.2)), finding that native title is capable of being recognised by the Common Law of Australia. Prime Minister Paul Keatings address to launch the Year of Indigenous People, also known as the Redfern Address, acknowledges the injustices committed against Indigenous Australians following white settlement. The Native Title Act (also known as the Mabo Bill) is passed by the Federal Parliament. The legislation comes into effect on 1st January 1994. The High Court hands down its judgement in the Wik Case, finding that native title may exist with pastoral leases, but that where there is conflict between native title rights and those of the pastoralist, the pastoralists rights will prevail. The Federal Governments Native Title Amendment Act, or 10 Point Plan, is passed by the Senate, following a record hundred hours of debate. The new legislation made it more difficult for Indigenous Australians to make native title claims. A Yorta Yorta claim for 4,000 square kilometres of land in the Murray Valley is rejected in the Federal Court, with Justice Olney determining that the tide of history had washed away observance of traditional laws and customs. The decision was appealed, but the Yorta Yorta claim was again rejected, this time by the High Court, in 2002. The Kaurareg peoples native title claim over the Prince of Wales island group, in the Torres Strait, is successful. The original inhabitants had been forcibly removed by the Queensland Government in 1922. One of the islands included in the claim was Bedanug, named Possession Island by James Cook when he claimed the east coast of Australia there in 1770. The High Court hands down its findings in two native title claims. In Wilson v Anderson, the court found that pastoral leases extinguish native title in western New South Wales. In the Miriuwung-Gajerrong claim (in the Kimberley region of Western Australia) it was ruled that there are no native title rights over mineral or petroleum resources. An agreement is reached recognising the recognising some native title rights of the Miriuwung and Gajerrong peoples

High Court Overturns Queensland Coast Island Declaratory Act of 1985, ABC Radio National The Law Report 19 April 1988 High Court Hands Down Mabo Decision, ABC News 3 June 1992 Paul Keatings Redfern Address


Parliament Passes the Native Title Act, ABC News 22 December 1993 High Court Hands Down Wik Decision, ABC 7.30 Report 23 December 1996 The 10 Point Plan Becomes Law, ABC Radio National PM 8 July 1988 Yorta Yorta Native Title Claim Rejected, ABC 7.30 Report 18 December 1998




Court Acknowledges Native Title in Torres Strait, ABC News 23 May 2001


High Court Rules Against Native Title in Kimberley, ABC Lateline 8 August 2002 Native Title Recognised in the



in the Kimberley. The agreement is ratified by the Federal Court. The first native title claim over an Australian capital city is recognised by the Federal Court in Perth. Justice Wilcox found that the Noongar (Nyungar) peoples claim over much of south-west WA was valid because they had maintained an unbroken connection to the land since white settlement.

Kimberley, ABC News 9 December 2003 Native Title Claim Over Perth, ABC 7.30 Report 28 September 2006

MABO DOCUMENTARY RESOURCES In 2012 ABCs Indigenous Department produced a series of short documentaries entitled 480 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the High Court decision of the Mabo case. In the lead up to the premiere of the telemovie MABO, 480 takes a look back over the history of Land Rights, Mabo the man and the court case, as well as the legacy it has created for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land Rights. EPISODE 1: INVASION In 1788 Britain legally claimed this country to be terra nullius, dispossessing hundreds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nations of land, culture and spiritual connections. Sparking a battle that would continue through generations, tearing apart, dividing and shaping what is Australia today. EPISODE 2: FROM LITTLE THINGS, BIG THINGS GROW Through the 1960s and 70s the Land Rights movement erupted onto the streets across the nation, the Gurindji people walked off Lord Vestys station and the Aboriginal people of Wreck Bay rejected the governments offer of a lease, stating they wanted full title over their land. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nations the dream of regaining their land again was becoming a reality. EPISODE 3: THE FAMILY MAN Eddie Koiki Mabo was more than just a court case. Through the eyes of his daughter Gail Mabo we take a personal look at the man that was Eddie Koiki Mabo. Eddie Koiki Mabo was a man of many different shades of light and colour; obstinate, difficult and passionate, he became consumed with fighting for the culture and ownership of a tiny island in the Torres Strait. Above all, he was a man who loved his family and people. EPISODE 4: THE MABO CASE Eddie Koiki Mabo won his way into history when the highest court in the country ruled in his favour and overturned the doctrine of terra nullius. EPISODE 5: THE LEGACY OF MABO As Mabos legacy unfolds in the shape of the Native Title Act 1993, Australia, as a nation, comes to realise the important role that land use, access and ownership has.