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Daughter calls for national holiday to mark Mabo decision



14 November 2012

June 3 should be declared a public holiday in honour of Eddie Mabo, according to his daughter, Gail.

"On June 3, 20 years ago, he changed history and that is something to be celebrated," Gail Mabo said in delivering the 2012 Charles Perkins Oration at the University on October 25. "The Americans have Martin Luther King Day. Why can't we have Eddie Mabo Day?" she continued, to an enthusiastic audience in the Great Hall.

The Mabo decision by the High Court, made in 1992 after 10 years of struggle led by Eddie Mabo, rejected the doctrine of terra nullius and recognised the common law concept of native title, giving the Meriam people of Murray Island legal possession of their traditional lands.

"My father was a very powerful man. Short in stature but big in voice. He was a man who could speak to everyone, a man who could command a room," Gail Mabo told the audience.

"He forced a way for others to come through. But he said 'I am just laying a stone'. Yet the recognising of prior ownership allows us to move forward. He made us realise that people are not all the same ... and that not all indigenous people are the same."

Gail Mabo said that when she was growing up, her father stressed the importance of words and speech to her. "We have to learn to articulate out words," he told me, because he could not speak very well. English was his second language."

Gail was one of two speakers at this year's oration. She was followed by Brian Keon-Cohen AM QC, who was junior counsel for the plaintiffs throughout the Mabo litigation.

Brian began his address, about the complexity and conflict of the case, with an age-old question: "Did history make the man or did the man make history? Being a conservative lawyer, I think it is a mix of both."

He added that despite the historic nature and principle recognized by the Mabo judgement, it has not yet delivered great benefits to Aboriginal people because of problems within the Native Title Act.

The Dr Charles Perkins AO Memorial Oration was launched in 2001 in collaboration with the University's Koori Centre, and each year features an oration by a leading figure within the field of Indigenous and non-Indigenous race relations.

Established with the full support of the Perkins family, the oration acknowledges Dr Perkins' tireless dedication to human rights and social justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.