Indige­nous leader farewelled

Townsville Bulletin - - FRONT PAGE - JU­LIA BRADLEY

ERNES­TINE “Bonita” Mabo was de­scribed as the “mother of na­tive ti­tle” at her state fu­neral in Townsville yes­ter­day.

Dr Mabo, who died last month aged 75, cham­pi­oned the pur­suit of indige­nous land rights along­side her hus­band Ed­die “Koiko” Mabo. Her fu­neral was at­tended by about 1000 peo­ple at Townsville Sta­dium.

Queens­land Premier An­nasta­cia Palaszczuk said in a tribute that Dr Mabo changed the course of his­tory.

“She made us see what we didn’t want to see,” she said.

INDIGE­NOUS ac­tivist Ernes­tine “Bonita” Mabo AO has been re­mem­bered as the “mother of na­tive ti­tle” and “ma­tri­arch of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion” at her mov­ing state fu­neral in Townsville.

Dr Mabo cham­pi­oned the pur­suit of indige­nous land rights along­side her hus­band Ed­die “Koiki” Mabo.

She passed away late last month at the age of 75.

Dr Mabo was farewelled by around 1000 peo­ple at a fu­neral ser­vice at the Townsville Sta­dium yes­ter­day, led by Pas­tor Tony Hallo.

“Most of us have had our lives im­pacted by Bonita… in church on Sun­days… She was quiet, dig­ni­fied, gra­cious… lov­ing God and peo­ple,” Mr Hallo said. The Mabo case was le­gal- ly sig­nif­i­cant be­cause it ruled Aus­tralian lands had not been “terra nul­lius” or “land be­long­ing to no one” when Euro­pean set­tle­ment oc­curred.

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

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

Queens­land Premier An­nasta­cia Palaszczuk de­liv­ered a mov­ing tribute to the “un­likely gi­ant”.

“Bonita Mabo was not im- pos­ing, not phys­i­cally. And yet this slight woman from Ing­ham would change the course of his­tory,” she said.

“Bonita, one of 10 chil­dren, was in­stilled with not just a deep sense of what’s right but the courage to de­mand it from oth­ers.

“It was a fam­ily trait. So was pride in them­selves and in their is­lan­der her­itage.

“She made us see what we didn’t want to see. She made the in­vis­i­ble, vis­i­ble.

“Bonita’s story is pow­er­ful. It’ll be told and re­told as a bea­con to gen­er­a­tions to fol­low her lead.”

Dr Mabo’s sis­ter Aunty Roslind White de­liv­ered the eu­logy while her grand­son Kaleb Co­hen fought back tears as he de­liv­ered his “let­ter to Nornie”.

“You are the rea­son I can walk with my chest out and head up high. The rea­son I feel proud to be a black man in this coun­try,” he told his grand­mother.

“Ev­ery night I will be singing, play­ing the didgeri­doo, teach­ing my great grand­kids our cul­ture. I am Bonita and Ed­die Mabo’s grand­son ... for­ever in my heart.”

Indige­nous ed­u­ca­tion was an­other of Dr Mabo’s life­long pas­sions.

She set up Aus­tralia’s first Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­nity school – the Black Com­mu­nity School – in Townsville in the early 1970s.

Dr Mabo re­ceived an Or­der of Aus­tralia in 2013 for her dis­tin­guished ser­vice to the indige­nous com­mu­nity.

She also re­ceived an honor-


ary doc­tor of let­ters from James Cook Univer­sity – just days be­fore her death.

A smok­ing cer­e­mony was con­ducted after the ser­vice.

At­ten­dees were asked to do­nate to Di­a­betes Queens­land in lieu of flow­ers.

Bonita Mabo.

Pic­tures: EVAN MOR­GAN

TRIBUTE: El­der Al­fred Small­wood con­ducts a smok­ing cer­e­mony at yes­ter­day’s state fu­neral for Bonita Mabo. BE­LOW RIGHT: Ms Mabo’s daugh­ters Celuia and Gail.

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