Hailed as the “mother of native title,” on International Women’s Day, and the 30th Anniversary since the MABO decision was handed down by the High Court leading to the creation of the Native Title Act (1993), the National Native Title Council pays homage to the late Dr Ernestine “Bonita” Mabo AO (c. 1943- 2018), an extraordinary matriarch who worked tirelessly alongside her late husband Edward “Koiki” Mabo in pursuit of Indigenous land rights.
Born in Ingham North Queensland, Dr Mabo, a Manbarra Nywaigi woman and a descendant of Vanuatuan workers brought to Queensland, married Eddie in Ingham in 1959, becoming parents to ten children. In 1972, disenchanted with the education her children were receiving, she was part of the instigation of Australia’s first Aboriginal community school, the Black Community School in Townsville, where she worked as a teacher’s aide. She also worked for a decade at the Central Queensland Land Council.
She spoke frequently about the need for Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and South Sea Islander peoples to “work together as one to fight for our rights.”
In 2013, Dr Mabo was awarded an Order of Australia for human rights advocacy, namely for her monumental contribution to social justice and human rights for First Nations and the Australian South Sea Islander peoples.
Five years later she received one of James Cook University’s highest awards, an Honorary Doctor of Letters in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the community.
It was through her quiet, steely strength and courage that she ultimately helped change the country.
Dr Mabo and the rest of her family, have longed to see 3 June the anniversary of the successful Mabo decision declared a national holiday, with a focus on reconciliation for all Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous Australians.
Together we can make this happen. “Because of her, we can.”