The 3rd of June this year was a really special time to be in Townsville. It marked 20 years since the historic Mabo decision which recognised the unique relationship Australia’s First Peoples have with the land—and led to the development of the Native Title Act.
Townsville is the home of the Mabo family and on the Sunday morning hundreds of people came together to remember and celebrate the life and achievements of Eddie Koiki Mabo—the man who challenged the myth of terra nullius all the way to the High Court.
The crowd heard from Greg McIntyre, one of the lawyers who worked with Koiki throughout the case, and Gail Mabo, Koiki’s daughter, who said that her father was “a man who did so much for all Australia” and whose legacy she hopes will result in more united country.
Uncle Donald Whaleboat reminded us that Koiki’s message was about more than land rights and that the driving force behind Koiki’s battle to the high court was respect, recognition and reconciliation. 20 years on, these themes are now the driving force behind recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution.
Following the ceremony, the crowd marched to the Townsville Reconciliation Festival to celebrate the historic day together and later in the week people gathered in Townsville to discuss the ‘echos’ of Eddie Mabo’s determination and commitment at the annual National Native Title Conference.
The conference was an important time to reflect on the legacy of Eddie Koiki Mabo and discuss what has been achieved and what still needs to be done to make the Native Title system stronger. It was also an important time to reflect on another significant step that needs to be taken to see Koiki’s vision of respect, recognition and reconciliation realised—recognising Australia’s First Peoples in the Constitution.
In the future, I hope we will be celebrating the day Australians took another step towards reconciliation by recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution.