I like poetry. I like words.
I would like to begin by honoring and quoting the words of Sir Gerard Brennan, the now late Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, which he wrote in his key decision in the Mabow case:
“The common law itself took away from the indigenous inhabitants any right to occupy their traditional lands, exposing them to the deprivation of the religious, cultural and economic sustenance that the land provided, under the control of the royal authorities without the right to compensation. effectively vested the land. And made the tribals intruders in their own homes and made beggars to live in. Judged by any civilized standard, such a law is unjust…”
The words are carefully chosen to sit alongside each other at the right length and with the right intonation, each setting off the other and chosen for both meaning and melody. I like how the words strike a chord.
They can make us angry – then calm us down. love, mercy, forgiveness; love always
love, suffering, hope, justice and truth
Even Eddie Mabo knew about love. He knew about suffering. He knew about hope and he knew about justice. And he knew the truth.
Truth: This was his land. This is our land. This will always be our land.
And he was right. As much as the law of Australia tried to tell him that he was wrong, he knew his law and he knew that the law of Britain, who stole this land, would have to accept – in the end – accept – What we all knew, what Eddie Mabo knew.
It was not vacant land. This was our land.
I like words. Words speak in all languages. Beyond language.
Words like han. Han is Korean and it is more than a word. It’s a feeling. This is mourning. This sadness is sadness beyond words.
Our people know Han. We know sorrow. Our land softly sings a song of sadness. I hear it at dawn as the earth cracks, river waters flow, and animals move as the sun rises above the hills and the light strikes the trees over my beloved Wiradjuri country.
miss the land.
Remembering the wounds The great Polish poet Zesaw Milos has said that perhaps all memory is the memory of wounds.
Milos wrote in the horrors of the 20th century when he saw war all around him.
They spoke of mortals: they knew that things don’t last and yet we do. We go, he said, never, ever, always.
We cross rivers and we turn like water. We cannot cross the same stream twice.
words. Listen to Milos:
“The House of Gold collapses. A world changes. A culture and a people facing destruction. The House of Gold collapses and the world climbs up.”
Has the golden house of culture and association, of blood and dreaming, of time immemorial – how the golden house collapses.
Why attack? of law. British law under the British flag.
A law that did not see us.
Words like terra nullius – empty land.
The golden house of K is the downfall – but not the end.
words hide the truth
We are not finished. The world of becoming ascends.
For two centuries Australian law hid the truth behind the words.
To get justice, we had to speak the words of British law.
Court cases in the mid-19th century challenged the idea of a British settlement – at that time the rule was in favor of the Crown.
British law was the law of the colony and took over and removed the tribal law.
Other cases remained. In one, the presiding judge held that the mere introduction of British law does not eliminate Aboriginal customary law.
Justice John Willis said: “In Australia it is the colonists, not the Aborigines, the foreigners.”
These legal challenges continued into the 20th century – rulings maintained the legitimacy of the Crown but did not completely eliminate tribal claims.
Justice Blackburn ruled that Australia was in fact an “inhabited colony”, that it was “desert and barren”. But he had to find words to speak a deeper truth – even as he perpetuated the myth of terra nullius – that the Aboriginal people had a “subtle and elaborate law system”.
“If ever any system can be called a government of laws,” he said, “it has been shown in evidence before me.”
a way to the high court
In 1979 Wiradjuri man and law student Paul Coe followed the path Eddie Mabo would follow – to the High Court of Australia.
The court rejected his challenge to Australian sovereignty, but in his opinion Justice Lionel Murphy broke the bones of the Australian settlement.
“… the Aborigines did not leave their lands peacefully; they were forcibly executed or driven out of the land by the United Kingdom’s army or European colonists, which amounted to attempted (and almost complete in Tasmania) genocide.”
words. Powerful words.
I thought this man would change mabo australia
A decade later, I was a young reporter—still in my early 20s, finding my way into the foreign world of journalism—when I saw a case listing in the High Court.
Few Australians then knew the name Eddie Mabo.
I had read about the case as it went to the lower courts. Denied at every turn.
I was no lawyer but I knew – I came to my senses – this was different. There was something of destiny in the air.
In this case, it seemed that the time had come.
I walked into the news meeting at ABC with words. This case, I said – this man will change Mabo – Australia.
There was skepticism, even cynicism, but I was able to report the story. You can still find it, buried somewhere in the archives of Nation World News.
How can this case break the myth of terra nullius?
In 1992, the High Court delivered its historic verdict. Eddie Mabo would not live to see his final victory, but he became immortal in that verdict. eternal.
The judges spoke of a legacy of “unspeakable shame” and said the expulsion of Indigenous peoples was the darkest aspect of Australia’s history. The nation remained small.
Here we are 30 years later, still on that journey.
We are still trying to find words equivalent to the full measure of Eddie Mabo’s devotion.
The word is still shining at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy on the lawns of Old Parliament House in Canberra.
It remains a collection of canvas and tin, but it has evolved over the years when a handful of young Aboriginal activists carried a beach umbrella and wrote the word embassy on a Manila folder, to shake fists at the power on the hill.
Today in the middle of winter smoke still rises from a campfire, framing a word written on the lawn: Sovereignty.
we are still here
For 50 years this embassy has stood as a reminder that we are still here.
words. Words like Uluru Statements from the Heart:
“We, coming from all points of the southern sky, gathered at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, make this statement from the heart:
Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign nations of the Australian continent and its surrounding islands, and were under our own laws and customs. This was done by our ancestors according to the calculations of our culture, from creation, according to the common law of “time immemorial”, and according to science, 60,000 years ago.
This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the land, or “Mother Nature”, and the ancestral ties between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were born there, remain connected to it, and to one day be united with our ancestors. Must come back there. This link is the basis of ownership of the soil of sovereignty, or better.”
“This is the agony of our powerlessness.”
Word – Makaratta. A Yolngu word meaning to come together after a struggle. to make agreements. to sign treaties.
“We leave the base camp and begin our trek across this vast country. We invite you to join us in the Australian people’s movement for a better future.”
Australia stands at a moment in history
Well, Australia now stands at a moment in history. The new prime minister, Anthony Albanese, says there will be a referendum to establish a voice – an Indigenous representative body – in the Australian constitution.
There will be many words between now and then.
I want to say two words to my people, Viradjuri. Yindyamara Vinanghanha.
Yindyamarra has the respect: it’s cool, it’s polite.
To know Vinanganha is to return: to know what we have always known.
That was a gift from Eddie Mabo. To create a world worth living in.
When our world burns with conflict. When democracy is crumbling and autocracy is on the rise. When the voices of the silent and marginalized within a democracy are demanding to be heard, we are bringing ours and challenging our democracy to examine itself and put our Constitution on the first footsteps, not the first. be presented as settlers.
To strengthen our democracy, Eddie Mabo strengthened our law.
As the voice of this brave man – even when he had passed – was heard by another man who is now gone and together they changed us.
To Eddie Koki Mabo and Chief Justice Sir Gerard Brennan.
We are grateful to you.
This is an edited excerpt from the 2022 Mabo lecture delivered by Stan Grant on June 3, 2022, to commemorate 30 years of the Mabo decision.
Stan Grant is ABC’s international affairs analyst and co-presenters Q+A on China Tonight at 9:35 p.m. on ABC TV on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Nation World News Channel and Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. Huh.