I couldn’t comprehend the amount of discrimination. It was appalling.
‘‘ Out of respect I needed to meet Bonita, make sure she and her family were happy with me playing a woman so loved and respected.’’
The apprehension disappeared as soon as Bonita Mabo, now 76, ‘‘ took me in her arms like I was her own daughter and told me ‘ just enjoy this and understand who we are as a family and what we had to go through’.’’
‘‘ She is a generous, warm- hearted, loving woman. She’s intelligent, funny and she’s the wife of a warrior and a fighter,’’ Mailman says.
It was the green light she needed to get to the heart of the film.
‘‘ I was in my final year at university when the Mabo decision was handed down, so I got the significance but certainly I didn’t understand the complications of the court case itself,’’ she says. ‘‘ I knew next to nothing about Eddie and Bonita and that was a beautiful story to discover.’’ And, at times, an enraging story. Scenes of Eddie being banned from drinking at pubs are a stark reminder of times when there was one door – and one bar – for whites, and another for indigenous people.
The couple are denied hotel accommodation in the dead of night after a hospital dash for a sick child. Eddie is banned from returning to Murray Island to see his dying father, because he is a ‘‘ black activist’’.
His discovery that his homeland is Crown property – and his decision to take legal action – nearly divides Eddie’s family.
They were scenes Mailman found painful to play.
‘‘ There were some moments I was just angry and frustrated,’’ she says.
‘‘ I couldn’t comprehend the amount of discrimination. It was appalling. And, you know, you get pockets of it here and there now but not to that extent.
‘‘ I know that the opportunities I have now are because of people like Eddie and Charles Perkins.
‘‘ I feel like I can hold my head high now and have those opportunities.
‘‘ I went to uni. I got my education. I got opportunities that my parents and grandparents didn’t.’’
Mabo’s release caps a massive year for Mailman, in which she also filmed the latest season of hit series Offspring, upcoming Aussie comedy film Mental, and The
Sapphires, for which she walked on the red carpet at the Cannes Films Festival. Next month she begins shooting Redfern
Now, an indigenous mini- series for the ABC. She says it’s all made possible by the fact ‘‘ I have an incredible man’’ – husband Matthew Coonan – sons Ollie, 2, and Harry, 5, and a happy family home in Wollongong.
Mailman didn’t accept the Mabo role to send a message, but ‘‘ I hope people who see it recognise what this fight has been about’’.
‘‘ There’s a whole generation who have no idea of what this meant to Australia as a nation,’’ she says. ‘‘ It is up to the audience to work out what they want to take from this. I can’t do that for them.’’
ABC1, tonight, 8.30
MAKING A STAND: Bani ( top), Mailman ( right) and the pair together at an indigenous rights march in the