Bonita Mabo: Indigenous Inspiration and Mother of Native Title 1943 - 26 November 2018 Print E-mail
 Monday November 26 2018
 

'Inspiration leader': Indigenous activist Bonita Mabo dies

Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the below articles contain images of deceased persons.

By Biwa Kwan

Bonita Mabo, who fought for Indigenous land rights alongside her husband, Eddie 'Koiki' Mabo, has died.

Dr Mabo's family said she passed away peacefully at 12.30am this morning, surrounded by her loved ones.

Robert Cole described the achievements of his cousin, Dr Mabo, and her husband as extraordinary.

"What they achieved was not for themselves. It was for the nation," he said in a statement supplied to NITV News.

The Australian South Sea Islander Alliance also released a statement confirming the death of their honorary patron.

"It is with a heavy heart that the ASSIPJ Board write to extend our condolences to the Mabo family for the loss of their Mother, Sister, Aunty, Cousin and Grandmother on this very day," the statement said.

The Australian South Sea Islander Alliance says Australia has lost one of the greatest matriarchs of all time (Supplied)

"Aunty Bonita's contribution to social justice and human rights for First Nations People and the Australian South Sea Islander recognition was monumental and relentless. A formidable 'Woman Tanna' Aunty Bonita will be greatly missed as Australia has lost one of the greatest matriarchs of all time."

Last week, Dr Mabo's work was recognised by James Cook University with an honorary doctorate.

Robert Cole said Dr Mabo was very proud of that award.

"[She] was very happy that day but as soon as the James Cook University presentation was over, she went to bed and didn't talk much more afterwards," he said.

Bonita Mabo receives one of James Cook University's highest awards, an Honorary Doctor of Letters (Mikaela Smith/IERC/James Cook University)

The university award took note of her 45 years of campaigning for the rights of Indigenous Australians and Australian South Sea Islanders.

She co-founded the Black Community School in Townsville, the country's first Indigenous community school.

She also served 10 years on the Central Queensland Land Council during which time she assisted her late husband in the historic Mabo High Court case which acknowledged the presence and land rights of Indigenous Australians in Australia prior to British colonisation in 1788.

"We can all take inspiration from Bonita's courage and determination," James Cook Chancellor Bill Tweddell said at the time.

Bonita Mabo (The Australian South Sea Islander Alliance)

'Gentle and inspirational' - Tributes were posted on social media.

Chief executive of SA Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement Cheryl Axleby described Bonita Mabo as "one of the most wonderful, gentle and inspirational Elder and Leader".

Just heard the sad news of the passing of one of the most wonderful, gentle and inspirational Elder and Leader! Sending much love, respect and condolences to the Mabo families xxxxx ­ Cheryl Axleby (@AxCheryl) November 26, 2018

Co-Chair of National Naidoc Week Committee John Paul Janke invoked the slogan from this year's Naidoc Week: "Because of Her, We Can.": Vale Dr Bonita Mabo AO...Because of Her, We Can.­ John Paul Janke (@jpjanke) November 26, 2018

The national body representing Aboriginal health groups, NACCHO, passed on its condolences: "Our thoughts are with the Mabo family for your very sad loss," the group posted on Twitter.
Our thoughts are with the Mabo family for your very sad loss

Only this month Dr Bonita Mabo AO was recognised by @jcu for her advocacy work for Indigenous schooling and her campaigning for the rights of Indigenous Australians and Australian South Sea Islanders. #RIPDrMabo https://t.co/d3bnQhRfw5 - ­ Aboriginal Health (@NACCHOAustralia) November 26, 2018

Queensland Deputy Premier Jackie Trad described Bonita Mabo as "an activist and a trailblazer" Vale Bonita Mabo. An incredibly important and enduring voice for change for First Nations and South Sea Islander peoples. A matriarch, an activist and a trailblazer, she will be greatly missed. https://t.co/XsVIwlU7Br ­ Jackie Trad (@jackietrad) November 26, 2018

Greens senator Richard Di Natale said those in Australia and around the world are "mourning the loss of such a committed campaigner for human rights and social justice": Our deepest sympathies are with the family of Bonita Mabo and those across Australia and around the world mourning the loss of such a committed campaigner for human rights and social justice. - ­ Richard Di Natale (@RichardDiNatale) November 26, 2018

Devastated to hear the news of the passing of Dr Bonita Mabo. May she forever Rest In Peace. My deepest condolences to her beloved family and all who loved her:­ Hadda Botfull (@mavsmum) November 26, 2018

In Mabo v Queensland, Meriam man Eddie Mabo challenged the notion of 'Terra Nullius' that Australia was a 'land belonging to no one', in the High Court of Australia.

His victory and the resulting decision recognised native title rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia for the first time since colonisation.

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 (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) ~ Monday November 25 2018

Bonita Mabo, prominent Indigenous rights activist, dies days after receiving accolade

By Indigenous affairs reporter Isabella Higgins


: Bonita Mabo, the wife of the late land rights campaigner Eddie Mabo, has died. (AAP/CLPR: Matt Nettheim)

Prominent Indigenous and South Sea Islander activist Bonita Mabo has died.

Key points:

  1. Bonita Mabo remembered as "mother of native title"
  2. She was a Malanbarra woman and a descendant of Vanuatuan workers brought to Queensland
  3. In recent years, she had been fighting for South Sea Islanders to be recognised in Australia as their own distinct ethnic group


Mabo was the wife of Eddie Mabo and worked alongside him in the pursuit of Indigenous land rights.

Just days ago she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from James Cook University for her contribution to social justice and human rights.

"It's a big loss for us all," Indigenous WA senator Patrick Dodson said.

"I think Australia needs to honour people like Mrs Mabo who stood, to some degree, in the shadows of her husband, but who was the backbone and the steel that helped he and many others to continue the struggles.

"A person of great note; a great Australian and great contribution to the cause of justice to all.

"It's a sad day. It's a big loss for all of us. But she is a person who comes in the vain of the very recent recognition that 'because of her, we can do things'."

In a statement, The Australian South Sea Islander Alliance said she would "be greatly missed".

"Aunty Bonita's contribution to social justice and human rights for First Nations People and the Australian South Sea Islander recognition was monumental and relentless," the statement read.

"A formidable 'Woman Tanna', Aunty Bonita will be greatly missed as Australia has lost one of the greatest matriarchs of all time."

Twitter: Twitter: @congressmob "We lost a great soul. She fought for our peoples and our rights, Aunty Bonita Mabo will be sorely missed #Respect #AustraliasFirstPeoples"
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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner June Oscar remembered her as "the mother of native title".

"She was a woman of great strength. She was gentle, stoic and loving," Ms Oscar said in a statement.

"I will always remember her as the mother of native title. Her legacy lives on in our continuing fight for land and sea rights."

Indigenous education was a lifelong passion
Mabo was a Malanbarra woman and a descendant of Vanuatuan workers brought to Queensland to work on sugar plantations.

She was born near Ingham in North Queensland and married Eddie in 1959.

The couple had 10 children and Indigenous education became one of Mabo's lifelong passions.

Photo: Bonita and Eddie Mabo opened the Black Community School in North Queensland. (Supplied)

Twitter: Twitter: @JCU "Bonita Mabo has received one of James Cook University's highest awards, an Honorary Doctor of Letters, in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the community."

In the early 1970s, she set up Australia's first Aboriginal community school and worked as a teacher's aide.

"For black children ... we could see how they were ... they used to go to school and they'd get blamed for different things," she said in a 2013 interview.

"I used to go up to the school and I used to have arguments with the teachers and many times they cried and I didn't care because I'd said what I'd wanted to say."

The Black Community School started in Townsville with 10 students and two teachers who volunteered for half pay.

The school taught children to read and write, and Torres Strait Islander history and culture.

At its peak in the late 1970s, 45 students were enrolled at the school.

It closed in 1985 due to a lack of funding.

The Mabo decision
Eddie Mabo spent a decade fighting for official recognition of his people's ownership of Mer Island in the Torres Strait.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.

Video: 'We're proud as punch' (ABC News)

Her husband did not live to see the result, but in 1992 Bonita Mabo was making her way from North Queensland to Canberra when the landmark decision was handed down.

In 2017, she recalled that moment.

"We were just outside of Sydney and we stopped and pulled up on the side of the road and Malita rang us and said 'dad won the decision, won the case'," she said.

"And we just jumped out and we just hugged each other.

Twitter: Marcia Langton tweet: RIP Bonita Mabo. Eddie and Bonita's fight and victory remade our world & secured rights unimaginable for 200 years. Condolences to family and Mer Nations.

"We were proud as punch."
The Mabo case was legally significant in Australia because it ruled the lands of this continent were not "terra nullius" or "land belonging to no-one" when European settlement occurred.

It found the Meriam people, traditional owners of the Murray Islands, including the islands of Mer, Dauer and Waier, were "entitled against the whole world to possession" of the lands.

The case paved the way for the Native Title Act of 1993.

In an interview with the ABC in 2013, Mabo said she had to be there for her husband "all the way".

"Thick or thin, we made it," she said.

"[I was] disappointed he wasn't there ... for the judgement to come down early enough.

"But on his deathbed he knew and he kept saying: 'when I win the case, when I win the case'."

Recognising South Sea Islanders

In recent years, Mabo had been fighting for South Sea Islanders to be recognised in Australia as their own distinct ethnic group.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.

Video: Bonita Mabo was awarded an AO in 2013. (ABC News)

She was recognised in the Order of Australia in 2013 for "distinguished service to the Indigenous community and to human rights".

"I feel so honoured to be part of it," Mabo said at the time.

Mabo was often asked about her work with Eddie, but while speaking about the Order of Australia, she said she made sure to tell people: "Well, I've got another side too."

"I'm a South Sea Islander descendent. My great grandfather came from the Tanna Islands and was stolen out here ... to come and clean the country up here," she said.

"And well, when I start saying that, they sit up and listen."

Jackie Huggins, co-chair of the National Congress of Australia's First People's, said Mabo was "a mother to all of us in the political struggle".

"She left a legacy of great compassion, of being the woman who was behind Eddie Mabo, her husband, in his fight for justice and human rights," she said.

"She was also an activist in her own right.

"She was a great legend across this whole nation.

"Like her husband, her legacy will always live on."
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 (Australian Edition) Tuesday 27 November 2018

Bonita Mabo: tributes pour in for 'mother of native title'

South Sea Islander hailed for her 'powerful contribution' to reconciliation in Australia

By Lorena Allam

Bonita Mabo co-founded Australia's first Indigenous community school and, with her husband Eddie Mabo, campaigned for land rights. Photograph: (The Sydney Morning Herald/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)

Tributes are flowing for the "matriarch of reconciliation", Bonita Mabo, an activist and reconciliation advocate in her own right who was the wife of the land rights champion Eddie "Koiki" Mabo. She has died in Townsville, surrounded by her family, at the age of 75.

The Aboriginal social justice commissioner, June Oscar, described Mabo as "gentle, stoic and loving. I will always remember her as the mother of native title. Her legacy lives on in our continuing fight for land and sea rights."

Australia's South Sea Islander community said: "Aunty Bonita's contribution to social justice and human rights for First Nations people and the Australian South Sea Islander recognition was monumental and relentless.- Linda Burney MP (@LindaBurneyMP)

Vale Bonita Mabo, an activist for social justice and human rights in her own right. One of the great First Nations Women of our time. Fighting 'til the very end for the great truth of this nation. My thoughts and love go out to the Mabo family.- November 26, 2018

"A formidable 'woman Tanna', Aunty Bonita will be greatly missed as Australia has lost one of the greatest matriarchs of all time. Because of her, we can."

Reconciliation Australia's chief executive, Karen Mundine, said Mabo had "made a powerful contribution to reconciliation in Australia - both in supporting her husband's work and through her individual efforts as an educator and advocate".

"Aunty Bonita's work shed light on the horrendous treatment of South Sea Islander Australians, which is an aspect of Australia's history that has long been hidden and ignored," Mundine said.

Mabo was a South Sea Islander who spoke frequently about the need for Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and South Sea Islander peoples to "work together as one to fight for our rights".

She co-founded Australia's first Indigenous community school, the Black community school in Townsville, where she worked as a teacher's aide and oversaw day-to-day operations, including providing continuity and cultural training to all children.

Only last week she received one of James Cook University's highest awards, an honorary doctorate of letters, in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the community.

During the long years fighting the native title court case - which eventually overturned the legal doctrine of terra nullius - Eddie worked as the gardener at the university, while Bonita worked night shifts at the prawn factory, riding her bicycle there each evening.

After her husband's death Bonita Mabo increasingly sought recognition for her ancestors and awareness of the harsh treatment they endured.

About 60,000 Pacific Islanders were brought to Australia - "blackbirded" to work on sugar and cotton plantations, sheep and cattle farms, and in the pearling and fishing industries.