Sharon Connolly, producer and former CEO of Film Australia (pictured at left in the cover image), talks about her work as producer on the film Land Bilong Islanders (1989, Trevor Graham, Australia). The film documents the proceedings of the Supreme Court of Queensland in which Justice Moynihan considered issues of fact relating to the Mabo v Queensland case, ahead of the High Court of Australia’s 1992 decision.
Connolly says 'we filmed what I think probably became the most important bit of film that I’ve ever been involved with: the beginnings of those hearings. We also filmed the whole business of the court being present on this tiny island.'
This is an excerpt from Sharon Connolly's oral history interview with Geoff Gardner from 2012.
Pictured are Sharon Connolly, Eddie Mabo jnr, Bonita Mabo and filmmaker Trevor Graham from Mabo - Life of an Island Man, 1997 - Film Australia Collection © NFSA.
Notes by Beth Taylor
Sharon Connolly: The High Court of Australia had remitted the case to the Queensland Supreme Court for a finding of the facts. And Justice Moynihan of the Queensland Supreme Court had determined that he was going to visit, with the court, the island for a week or less to conduct hearings on the island. And it was the first time, I think, that the Supreme Court of Queensland had been to the Torres Strait. And actually, I think as far as I know it was the first time a film crew had been allowed to a Supreme Court hearing anywhere in Australia. We weren’t allowed in for long. He put very strict limits on it, so when we arrived on the island we negotiated an arrangement whereby we could go into the court and film the beginnings of proceedings, introductory remarks, up to the proclamation of witnesses I think. And so that’s what we did. We went to the island on very little money with a very small crew, which comprised Trevor, myself, Bronwyn Murphy sound recordist, John Whitteron cinematographer. There may have been one other person there, I can’t remember. It might have been Sasha Trikojus actually...
... We scrubbed out a house on the island and we stayed there for a week. And we filmed what I think probably became the most important bit of film that I’ve ever been involved with. The beginnings of those hearings we also filmed the whole business of the court being present on this tiny island. And we interviewed Eddie Mabo at length on that island. We later went back and did more interviews with him. We interviewed his lawyers and that footage remains the only footage actually of the case that exists. And it’s gone on to form part of many of our own further productions, documentaries, multimedia projects about the Mabo case. And as recently as last month, some of that footage featured in the Mabo telemovie, which combined some actuality footage with drama. So it’s been very important footage.