Different Mabo Day for Torres Strait’s Mer Island due to safety restrictions

On Mer Island, home to late indigenous land rights activist Eddie Koiki Mabo, Mabo Day, celebrated on June 3 each year, is typically marked with feasts, dancing, and singing.

Mer, also known as Murray Island, had been the subject of the 1992 Mabo landmark decision of the High Court.

The case recognized the Meriam people’s traditional land rights and paved the way for recognition of native titles throughout Australia.

A timeline leading up to landmark Mabo decision and how it changed Australian society’s face. Local councilor Aven Noah said there would be a week of cultural activities in an ordinary year, culminating in a big celebration paying tribute to “Grandad Koiki” and other claimants in the case.

“It’s a big party. The women take part, the children take part,” he stated.

“It’s all one big festival that we celebrate to remember those who fought long and hard in recognition of the land where we all come from, our inheritance.”

But the celebrations today will be very distinct because of the restrictions on COVID-19.

In official proceedings only 20 people, largely senior elders, will take part.

“Twenty people will meet, we’ll have a flag-raising ceremony, we’ll have a prayer to give us a blessing for the day, we’ll have wreath-laying, we’ll have speeches,” Cr Noah said.

“We’ll be dressed in our colorful traditional dresses and lava lava and flowery shirts.”

Mabo Day
(Supplied: Torres Strait Regional Authority)

In this case, the group will visit the grave of Mr. Mabo and those of other plaintiffs.

“We’ll come to their gravesite and visit them and put flowers, and then that’s all we can do in this time due to circumstances,” Cr Noah said.

“Then we’ll just go to our own homes and celebrate ourselves with our families.

“I’m sure [people will] put the music on and even get the drum out and they’ll be singing to celebrate.”

Different Mabo Day for Torres Strait's Mer Island due to safety restrictions (2)
(AAP: Tracey Nearmy)

Daughter Wishes People to Celebrate Online

In Townsville, home to many Torres Strait Islanders including Eddie Mabo’s daughter Gail Mabo, a virtual Mabo Day ceremony was arranged.

“For me it’s sad that as a community we can’t be together to celebrate,” she said.

“But via phone, via Facebook, via all of those devices, we can be together and united to actually celebrate this day which for me is the most special day.

“For me it feels like yesterday and for my family it’s a little bit harder this year because of mum not being here to celebrate it with us. But we celebrate both of them now.”

She had hoped all Australians would celebrate Mabo Day, not just First Nations people.

“It isn’t just a celebration of us, it’s a celebration of all of us because we all stand united as Australians no matter what color we are,” she said.

“Just do a little clip with your house, with your family, celebrating Mabo Day and just send it out there.

“Just say ‘Happy Mabo Day’ and share it with everybody. Being viral can be viral.”

Different Mabo Day for Torres Strait's Mer Island due to safety restrictions' (2)
(Supplied: James Cook University)

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