Mabo: Life of An Island Man - the origins of the land claim

Mabo: Life of An Island Man - the origins of the land claim
Mabo Family, Trevor Graham and Yarra Bank Films
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
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The Queensland Department of Aboriginal Affairs would not allow Mabo back to Mer, so Eddie stayed in Townsville with his family and became an activist. He supported his family by working as a gardener at James Cook University.

Whilst working at the university, academics like Noel Loos became aware of the knowledge Mabo had of Torres Strait Island culture and invited him to speak to his race relations course students. Another academic, Henry Reynolds, says Eddie's main interest was ideas - 'When you talked about ideas and culture he would glow'.

In voice-over filmmaker Trevor Graham says, 'He gave the academics and their students a first-hand taste of Islander culture. In return they helped him understand the white man's system and the white man's law. What he learned deeply offended his sense of justice.' 

Reynolds says that it was extremely important to Eddie to know that he could return to his island of Mer one day and still have the Mabo land there. When Reynolds said that the land would be considered Crown land, Mabo was shocked and horrified. Reynolds recalls 'it was as though I'd punched him in the face'. 

This was a turning point for Mabo. He became obsessed with establishing his right to the Mabo land on Mer. 

This is an excerpt from: Mabo: Life of An Island Man, 1997, Film Australia Collection © NFSA. Buy a copy at the NFSA shop.

Notes by Beth Taylor