SINCE Deborah Mailman’s small-screen debut on the groundbreaking drama The Secret Life of Us, she has charmed the nation with her wicked grin and extraordinary talent.
A proud indigenous woman, Mailman has garnered early buzz for her performance in the ABC telemovie Mabo.
She says the pressure to tell the story of Aboriginal and Torres Strait land rights pioneer Eddie Mabo has been daunting.
Mailman plays widow, Bonita Mabo.
‘‘ It scared me beyond anything because she’s such a well-loved and well-respected woman in the community and, of course, the Mabo family,’’ Mailman says.
‘‘ I wanted to make sure the family, first and foremost, were happy with me and that I had their blessing. And once I got that I felt I could prepare for the role.
‘‘ When I knew they were 100 per cent behind me and Jimi (Bani) playing Eddie, I could relax. Then I just enjoyed the importance of telling the story.’’
Mailman describes Bonita as ‘‘ incredible, a fantastic lady’’.
‘‘ She matched Eddie in every way energy-wise. She’s a beautiful woman. She’s got such a gorgeous and gentle heart,’’ she says. ‘‘ But she’s a warrior too. She can fight and
Eddie’s has that same fire Eddie had.’’
While Australia has embraced Mailman’s talent, actor Jimi Bani in the title role has been a revelation.
‘‘ If you didn’t know Jimi before this, you will now because he’s extraordinary,’’ Mailman says.
‘‘ He’s also a perfectionist because he understands, especially as a Torres Strait Islander man, more so what it means to play the role of Eddie Mabo.’’
As far as indigenous rights are concerned, Mailman says while the Mabo High Court decision broke ground, the cause has lost traction.
‘‘ Yes, there was that sense of recognition — overturning terra nullius, so on a psychological level and as a symbol it did that for us as a community, as black fellas,’’ she says.
‘‘ But we’re still having to assess health and education in communities, employment, drug abuse . . . that’s still happening, that’s still a problem.’’ Mabo, ABC1, Sunday, 8.30pm Historic: Deborah Mailman and Jimi Bani play Eddie and Bonita Mabo.