From 2004, JCU has hosted the Eddie Koiki Mabo Lecture Series, in memory of Mabo. Each year, to mark 3 June (Mabo Day), the university invites a prominent person who has made a significant contribution to contemporary Australian society to deliver a commemorative presentation touching on themes arising from Mabo’s life, the Mabo decision, native title or land rights. Transcripts and videos, when available, have been deposited in the NQHeritage@JCU repository. This chapter offers a brief glimpse into the lectures delivered between 2004 and 2022 (the 30th anniversary of the Mabo decision).
2004-2022 Eddie Koiki Mabo Lecture Series
2004 Mabo Lecture – Fr Frank Brennan SJ, AO
The inaugural Mabo Lecture was delivered by priest, lawyer and academic Fr Frank Brennan – an active and highly respected figure in the work towards Reconciliation.
“The dispossession of the Aboriginal peoples from their lands was a great wrong. Many people believe that those of us who are the beneficiaries of that wrong have a moral responsibility to redress it to the extent that it can be redressed. But it is becoming increasingly clear … that redress cannot be achieved by a system that depends on evaluating the competing legal rights of landholders and native-title holders … It may be that the time has come to think of abandoning the present system, a system that simply seeks to declare and enforce the legal rights of the parties, irrespective of their merits. A better system may be an arbitral system that declares what the rights of the parties ought to be according to the justice and circumstances of the individual case.” – Frank Brennan
2005 Mabo Lecture – Hugh Mackay
Every Community Needs its Places (transcript)
“The life of the community is the key to its moral sensitivity, and its moral sensitivity is the key to its values. The challenge is not to teach people ‘values’: the challenge is to put people back together. In particular, the challenge is to foster the local, immediate, geographical sense of belonging to a community.” – Hugh Mackay
2006 Mabo Lecture – Professor Larissa Behrendt
The Long Path to Land Justice (transcript)
“Eddie Mabo had an unwavering belief in the rightness of his claim. He also tested a legal system that had worked well to protect the interests of the middle class members of the dominant culture and pushed that system so that it sought to protect the rights of the poor, the marginalised and the disadvantaged. And this has to be the real test of any law, any policy and our constitution: it is not enough that it works well for those who are already privileged. Its worth is how it delivers for those who are underprivileged, who are on the margins, who have been dispossessed.” – Larissa Behrendt
2008 Mabo Lecture – The Hon. Jenny Macklin MP
Beyond Mabo: Native Title and Closing the Gap (transcript)
“As a Government, it is our responsibility to make sure that the Native Title Act operates effectively and in the interests of the community. Fifteen years after the passage of this historic legislation, there is a need to look hard at the structures and institutions we have put in place, and make sure that they are working effectively for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and in the nation’s interest.” – Jenny Macklin
2009 Mabo Lecture – Professor Ross Garnaut
“Some people have persuaded themselves that the fact of natural climate change somehow reduces the importance of doing something about the potentially disruptive forces that we ourselves have unleashed. The big natural climate change worked its large effects before the human footprint was heavy on the earth’s environment, before human society took anything like its present form, and long before nation states constrained the movement of people across the lands and seas. The more rapid, anthropogenic climate change that is probably in prospect if humanity fails in effective mitigation will test the adaptive powers of human civilisation in ways that have no precedents.” – Ross Garnaut
2010 Mabo Lecture – Professor Chris Sarra
Our Identity on Our Terms (recording and transcript)
“At the heart of Mr Mabo’s heroic endeavours on behalf of Indigenous people of Australia, was an attachment to country. This attachment is qualitatively different from the relationship to land that prevails in mainstream Australia. But white Australia must make the effort to come to terms with the full meaning of what Country means to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, as it is a crucial part of our Indigenous identity.” – Chris Sarra
2011 Mabo Lecture – Mick Gooda
“Culture is a source of strength, resilience, happiness, identity and confidence for our communities. So access to our lands, territories and resources is essential to the maintenance and protection of our cultural identity, cultural integrity and cultural self-determination. As I said earlier, these rights of self- determination, free, prior and informed consent, non-discrimination and protection of culture are contained within the declaration. It is my view that lateral violence occurs when these fundamental human rights and principles are not met.” – Mick Gooda
2012 Mabo Lecture – Professor Henry Reynolds
Mabo 20 Years on. Did it Change the Nation? (recording and transcript)
Professor Henry Reynolds is an eminent Australian historian whose research has focused on frontier conflicts between Indigenous Australians and colonial settlers and is credited with transforming how history is studied in Australia. He was a friend of Koiki and participated in events which led to the decision to challenge Crown ownership of land on Mer Island in the High Court of Australia. Professor Reynolds was an academic at James Cook University between 1965 and 1998.
“There’s no doubt, he would have been delighted by the success. I think he was always confident that it would be successful. He was so convinced himself of the justice of his case. He felt that justice must prevail. And in a way that was the most extraordinary vote of confidence in the Australian legal system. Many Indigenous people said, ‘No, it’s no use. They will never change.’ But Eddie said, ‘No, our court is just and eventually it will prevail.'” – Henry Reynolds
2013 Mabo Lecture – Dr Bryan Keon-Cohen AM, QC
Mabo and Others: Products or Agents of Progress? (recording and transcript)
Dr Bryan Keon-Cohen (AM, QC) was junior counsel for the plaintiff in Mabo v Queensland (No 2).
“One could not say that throughout the decade-long litigation, and beyond, the Meriam community as a whole constituted a united and irresistible historical force supporting the recognition of native title on their island. Far from it. The point is: there were winners and losers in this, as in any other hard-fought litigation. As to the fate of our individual in history: this fractious background makes the determination of the plaintiffs – especially Mabo, Dave Passi and James Rice – and given their sometimes isolated stance, all the more admirable. But “isolated” is the wrong word to describe Eddie Mabo. Throughout, he and his partner, Bonita, and their growing family, stood together, ‘agitators’ all of them, and proudly so. I recognize and applaud Bonita’s contribution as second to none. Perhaps when assessing this particular historical event, we should speak not of the ‘individual’, but the ‘family’ in history.” – Brian Keon-Cohen
2014 Mabo Lecture – Shannan Dodson
Recognition, National Identity and Our Future (recording and transcript)
“But I stand here before you and tell you I am proud of my Anglo background and the great contribution my grandmother, grandfather, aunties, uncles and cousins have made to this country. I am proud of my mother, an inspirational woman who has given me the courage and support to be whoever or whatever I want to be. And I am proud of my Aboriginal Yawuru background. I am proud of my father, and my uncle and my ancestors for all the hard work they have put in to working towards a future where coming generations can feel proud and confident and respected in their position as first nations people while also seeking out the full opportunities that every Australian citizen should have … This is part of who I am. It’s what makes me, me. And, it is what makes us all Australian. While we learn about our colonial history and where it has brought us to today, we can also be rightly proud of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history.” – Shannan Dodson
2015 Mabo Lecture – The Hon. Leeanne Enoch MP
Taking up Space, Taking our Place (recording and transcript)
“This is not about tokenism, this is about cut through, this is about recognising the urgency of seeing more Indigenous people in all political parties and in our parliament. We cannot sit on our hands for another twelve years while recommendations are developed and reviewed. We must act. I do think political parties should set minimum targets for the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander candidates they pre-select into winnable seats. Political parties need to reflect the population of Queensland and they need to make deliberate choices about their candidates so that our parliament also reflects the broader community. We have taken that step with women; it is time that we did so with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of this state, and nationally.” – Leeanne Enoch
2016 Mabo Lecture – Professor Martin Nakata
Re-thinking Indigenous Learning Support (recording and transcript)
“If we are concerned to support Indigenous students so that they develop the capacities they need to succeed, then we must start with a big picture of their educational journey. The big picture starts with the continuing poor outcomes of schooling. These outcomes, past and present, mean that the majority of Indigenous school-leavers and mature age students will require special access conditions. However, it is easy to set students up to fail if the gap between their knowledge and skills and the requisite or assumed knowledge and skills needed for the programs in which they enrol is too wide. Unless we intervene and provide the right support they need to overcome these gaps, we will continue to lose them.” – Martin Nakata
2017 Mabo Lecture – Professor Megan Davis
“Fundamental grievances will not vanish. In the European settlement of Australia there were no treaties, no form of settlement, no compact. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people therefore did not cede sovereignty to our land. It was taken away from us. That remains the continuing source of the dispute. And that is what happened at all of the dialogues. We need to address that original grievance before we can move forward.” – Megan Davis
2021 Mabo Lecture – Emeritus Professor John Maynard
Indigenous Heroes and Heroines: The Missing Profiles in Australian History (recording and transcript)
“The stories of Dave Sands, Douglas Grant and Jane Duren have largely been overlooked in Australian history but their rich and varied lives through difficult time periods for Aboriginal people showcases the tenacity, courage and determination of our people. These were individuals like Koiki, Eddie Mabo, who were fighting against the strict and enforced barriers of exclusion that have impacted upon Indigenous lives for much of the history since 1788. They challenged what was understood to be the norm for Indigenous people and proved that we could achieve in an entirely disadvantaged world in total contradiction to the wider communities understanding and appreciation.” – John Maynard
2022 Mabo Lecture – Stan Grant
A Mabo Oration (recording and transcript)
“Eddie Mabo knew about love too. He knew about suffering.
He knew about hope and he knew about justice. And he knew truth.
The truth: this was his land. This is our land. This will always be our land.
And he was right. And as much as Australia’s law tried to tell him he was wrong. He knew his law and he knew that even
the law of Britain that had stolen this land had to admit – finally admit – what we knew, what Eddie Mabo knew.
This was not empty land. This was our land.
Words – the right words – words that speak truth – those words speak to our souls.” – Stan Grant
Other Lectures and Events
2020 Roderick Memorial and JCU Last Lecture
Ordinarily there are several public lecture events held at James Cook University each year. The Roderick Memorial Lecture is presented by the Foundation for Australian Literary Studies (FALS) and provides a platform for Australian authors to share the stories that influenced their writing. The Last Lecture is held on the last teaching day of the academic year, and provides a JCU academic (active, honorary or emeritus) the opportunity to present a talk on a topic of their choosing to the wider community. In 2020, with the pandemic causing several events to be postponed or cancelled, the Roderick Memorial Lecture and the Last Lecture were combined, and with Henry Reynolds discussing the books he wrote as a result of his friendship with Eddie Koiki Mabo, the lecture also took the place of the Mabo Lecture for that year (although it is not considered part of the Mabo Lecture Series).
Other Mabo Lectures
The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) holds an annual Summit, which incorporates a Mabo Lecture. The 2022 Mabo Lecture, given for the 30th anniversary of the Mabo Decision, was presented by Jodie Sizer, Chair of AIATSIS and Gunditjmara woman.
The Mabo Oration is a biennial event organised by the Queensland Human Rights Commission in conjunction with the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC). This event seeks to present a “public oration from expert voices in the field of Native Title and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures” (QPAC, 2017).