Mabo footage released for first time

As the nation commemorates Mabo Day, a video recording of Eddie Koiki Mabo giving a guest lecture about the Torres Strait Islander community has been released to the public, in its entirety, for the first time.

The lecture was recorded in 1982 and was given to students at the Townsville College of Advanced Education (later incorporated into James Cook University) as part of its Race and Culture Course.

The 50-minute recording shows Koiki Mabo talking about the history of the Torres Strait Islander community, both in the Torres Strait and on the Australian mainland, and the long term impact on his culture of the coming of Europeans, from the first missionaries to current government administrators.

“They [Torres Strait Islanders] got a message that they weren’t legally the owners of the Torres Strait Islands,” he said in the lecture. “And then this year, I think you’ve all heard, that we’re taking the matter to court on the basis of international common law of occupation and enjoyment.”

JCU Library Special Collections Manager Bronwyn McBurnie said the recording is of national significance.

“This lecture is a historical moment when Koiki Mabo was at the beginning of his decade-long land rights court battle,” she said.

“This recording is an intimate connection to the High Court of Australia’s decision to overturn the concept of ‘terra nullius’ in 1992 through the Mabo case.”

Vice Chancellor Professor Sandra Harding said it’s a privilege to have this recording and to share it with the Australian community.

“I am delighted we can make this significant historical recording available to members of the public,” she said. “In particular, to release it as part of the University’s commemorations of Mabo Day.”

The video is one of James Cook University’s 50 Treasures collection, to celebrate 50 years of JCU, and is available online at https://nqheritage.jcu.edu.au/757/

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