One day… all of Australia is going to know my name

gordon bennett - eddi mabo1Yeah, whatever, Dad” is what the teenage daughter of Eddie Mabo replied to her father when he promised her: “One day, my girl, all of Australia is going to know my name.” (The Australian June 1, 2012)

Eddie Koiki Mabo was born on 29th June 1936 on the island of Mer (Murray Island) in the Torres Strait between Australia and Papua New Guinea. Mabo is known for his role in campaigning for Indigenous land rights and for his role in a landmark decision of the High Court of Australia which overturned the legal doctrine of terra nullius (“empty land”); which characterised Australian law with regard to land and title.

  • Mabo worked on pearling boats; as a cane cutter; and as a railway fettler; before becoming a gardener at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland at the age of 31.
  • It was during this time, that he became a strident activist for land rights.
  • In 1982 he initiated a legal case for native title against the State of Queensland.
  • Sadly, Mabo died of cancer at the age of 55, on 21st January 1992, before the historic decision could be finalised.
  • Five months later, on 3rd June, 1992, seven Justices of the High Court of Australia  announced its historic decision, (6-1) in favour of Mabo (and his co-plaintiffs), namely overturning the accepted view that the legal doctrine of terra nullius before European settlement.

In 1992, Mabo was posthumously awarded the Australian Human Rights Medal in the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Awards, together with his co-plaintiffs, Reverend Dave Passi, Sam Passi (dec.), James Rice (dec.), Celuia Mapo Salee (dec.) and Barbara Hocking. The award was in recognition “of their long and determined battle to gain justice for their people” and the “work over many years to gain legal recognition for indigenous people’s rights”.

  • On 21 May 2008, James Cook University named its Townsville campus library the Eddie Koiki Mabo Library.
  • Mabo Day is an official holiday in the Torres Shire, celebrated on 3rd June.

About the artist:

Gordon Bennett, (born in Monto, Queensland on 10 August 1955) was a significant figure in contemporary Indigenous Australian art. He was of both Indigenous and Anglo-Gaelic heritage. He undertook formal art studies at the Queensland College of Art, Brisbane from 1986-1988.  His 1991 painting Nine Ricochets won the prestigious Moët & Chandon Australian Art Fellowship, and he rapidly established himself as a leading figure in the Australian art world.

  • He lived and worked in Brisbane, where he created paintings, prints and worked in multi-media. The confrontation of Australian racism is a regular theme in his works.
  • In 2004, Bennett, together with Peter Robinson, had a two-person exhibition Three Colours, which showed at several Victorian art galleries including Heide Museum of Modern Art, Shepparton Art Gallery, Bendigo Art Gallery and the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery.
  • In late 2007 he had a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, that set his works on colonialism in an international context.
  • Gordon Bennett died on 3 June 2014, of natural causes.

Image featured above: (Canberra Portrait Gallery), is synthetic polymer paint on linen purchased with the funds provided by L. Gordon Darling. – “Eddie Mabo” (after Mike Kelley’s Booth’s Puddle (1985); Plato’s Cave; and Rothko’s Chapel, Lincoln’s profile).

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