Mabo and me

It gives me great satisfaction to be working in the Eddie Koiki Mabo Library at JCU.

Eddie Koiki Mabo was a gardener at JCU and it was in 1974 in discussions with JCU historians Noel Loos and Henry Reynolds that Eddie Mabo became aware of the legal doctrine of “terra nullius”. He was shocked to learn that in the eyes of the law his beloved land on the Torres Strait island of Mer did not belong to his family but was “land belonging to nothing, no one”.

Fast forward and it was at a Land Rights conference at JCU in 1981 that Eddie Mabo was encouraged to claim land rights though the Australian legal system which culminated in the historic High Court decision in 1992.

In a conversation with friends during the week I reflected on my own small part in this drama.

In 1980 I was employed in Townsville to lead a project called “One World Week” which was based in the Christian churches and as the name suggests was about raising awareness of the fact that we all live in one world. Gatherings were organised throughout North Queensland and people were encouraged to plan events around the theme.

It was at a gathering in Noel Loos’s house in Pimlico that Noel declared that the proposed Treaty between Indigenous Australians and the Australian Government was of great significance to Townsville. The rest of the group were easily persuaded and together we began planning for a public event in Townsville.

In August 1980 we held a public meeting on the need for a treaty with Aboriginal Australia at the Townsville City Council meeting rooms attended by more than 200 people. The meeting was addressed by Judith Wright, the iconic Australian poet who was co-chair of the Australian Treaty Committee and Bill Bird, an Aboriginal activist who was also member of the national Treaty committee.

From that meeting we formed the Townsville Treaty Committee with Noel Loos and Eddie Mabo as joint chairs. I was the treasurer.

It was early in 1981 that we were approached by Erik Olbrei from the JCU Student Union to co-sponsor the Land Right Conference to be held in August that year. Our committee was active in inviting prominent national speakers and activists to the conference. It was at this conference that the decision to mount the famous legal case was made and as they say – the rest is history.


About peterhanley1

Peter Hanley has lived in North Queensland for more than 30 years. His interests include human rights, social justice, sustainability and community development. True North explores issues in these areas.
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