I couldn’t com­pre­hend the amount of dis­crim­i­na­tion. It was ap­palling.

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Television -

‘‘ 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

Mabo tele­movie.

MAK­ING A STAND: Bani ( top), Mail­man ( right) and the pair together at an in­dige­nous rights march in the

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