South Sea Islander activist and formidable indigenous human rights defender, Dr Bonita Mabo, passed away in Townsville surrounded by loved ones on Tuesday 27 November. She was 75 years old.
Dr Mabo is known as the “matriarch of reconciliation” who fought alongside her late husband Eddie Koiki Mabo for indigenous land rights.
Days before her passing Dr Mabo, James Cook University awarded her with an Honorary Doctor of Letters in recognition of her life long advocacy.
Dr Mabo spent 45 years campaigning for indigenous human rights and for 10 years she was on the Central Queensland Council. She also co-founded the Black Community School in Townsville, which was Australia’s first indigenous community school. There she worked as a teacher’s aide and managed daily operations ensuring that all the children would be provided with continuity and cultural training.
The Australian South Sea Islander Alliance released a statement extending their condolences to the Mabo family and acknowledging the extensive work of their honorary patron.
“Aunty Bonita’s contribution to social justice and human rights for First Nations People and the Australian South Sea Islander recognition was monumental and relentless.
“A formidable ‘Woman Tanna’ Aunty Bonita will be greatly missed as Australia has lost one of the greatest matriarchs of all time,” read the statement.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced that there will be a state funeral for Dr Mabo held in Queensland in December.
“This state funeral will be an opportunity for everyone in our community to pay tribute to Dr Mabo, reflecting on her outstanding life and legacy,” said Premier Palaszczuk.
The Mabo v. Queensland case overturned the legal policy of terra nullius, recognising the native land rights for aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people for the first time since 1788 British colonisation.
Since her husband’s death, Dr Mabo, fought for the recognition of the harsh treatment her ancestors endured.
Between 1863 and 1904, around 60,000 Pacific Islanders were subject to a practice known as blackbirding. This practice saw Pacific Islanders brought to Australia, often through deception or against their will, and were made to work in slave-like conditions in cotton and sugar plantations, fishing industries and sheep and cattle farms.