Vale Mrs Ernestine Bonita Mabo AO

Tuesday, 27 November 2018 - 4:45pm

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) send their deepest condolences to the Mabo family. The connection between AIATSIS and the Mabo family goes back many years, and it is with great sadness that the news was received.

As an elder of the Indigenous community of Palm Island in Queensland, Mrs Mabo contributed significantly to educational services and more community focused programs over several decades.

Mrs Mabo was also, for many years, an outspoken advocate for the recognition of South Sea Islanders and their social and economic contribution to Australian life. While she was not alone in calling for this recognition, she was certainly one of the earliest – and certainly continuous campaigners – for such recognition. 

Bonita Mabo. AIATSIS.154.BW-N06246_15. Photograph by Alana Harris.
Bonita Mabo. AIATSIS.154.BW-N06246_15. Photograph by Alana Harris.

Throughout her life, Mrs Mabo supported and fought hard for the advancement of Aboriginal community life through better health and educational opportunities. Mrs Mabo and her husband, Eddie ‘Koiki’ Mabo, were major instigators behind the ground breaking establishment of the Black Community School in Townsville in 1973.

AIATSIS is proud of its connection and history with the Mabo family’s fight for land rights, having provided a grant to Eddie “Koiki” Mabo in 1984 to record traditional boundaries on Mer Island. In her own right, Mrs Mabo was a major contributor in the fight for land rights – a fight she continued after Mr Mabo’s death just five months before the High Court announced its historic decision overturning the legal fiction of terra nullius [land belonging to nothing, no one], now more commonly known as the Mabo decision.

Mrs Mabo’s presence at the inaugural Mabo lecture at AIATSIS’ National Native Title Conference in Townsville in 2012, and in years following, brought such joy and awe to those gathered, adding a true sense of ceremony to the proceedings. We are truly honoured to have had her and her family’s support for these events and AIATSIS.

Mrs Mabo was named as an Officer (AO) in the General Division of the Order of Australia for "distinguished service to the Indigenous community and to human rights as an advocate for the Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and South Sea Islander peoples” in 2013. And her outstanding contribution to the community through a lifetime of advocacy saw her admitted to the award of Honorary Doctorate of Letters at James Cook University earlier this month.

Mrs Bonita Mabo epitomised resilience and strength of character. She was a pathfinder and role model, and by any standards, an inspirational Australian.

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Last reviewed: 11 Dec 2018