Mabo's life remembered in bitter-sweet moment

FOR Bonita Mabo, news of her Australia Day honour came at a bitter-sweet moment: just as the 21st anniversary of husband Eddie's death was due.

''Naturally, I had a bit of a cry on Monday,'' she says of the January 21st milestone. ''It was the 21st anniversary and the reporters came and talked to me, the ABC. I was a bit upset that morning.''

But for Mrs Mabo, there is always pride among the tears as she reflects on the legacy of her husband, whose land rights campaign resulted in the High Court decision of 1992 that overturned the doctrine of terra nullius. That ruling came five months after Eddie Mabo's death from cancer.

After his death, his widow continued his campaign, as recognised in her naming as an Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AO). Her listing reads: ''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. Advocate for Indigenous Land Rights; continued moving forward with Native Title reform after her husband's death in 1992.''

When this is read to her, there is a long pause before Bonita Mabo can explain what such an honour means to her.

''I feel really privileged,'' she told Fairfax Media. ''I wasn't expecting anything like that. It was a lovely surprise. How come me? I just questioned it like that. How come me? Why me?

''I never really thought about things like this. I just did what I have to do and you never give it a thought. Other people are taking notice of the things you do.''

Asked to list her proudest achievement, she replies: ''To be there by my husband. I don't know if that's such a good answer but that's what it is.

''He'd be proud of me. When I look back on the years and all the plans and dreams, and some of them came true … I'm proud of what he did and my children are proud of what he did.''

Her greatest dream?

''I would like to see an indigenous person in Parliament on behalf of us. One or two wouldn't go wrong and we have a few of them around the place so [they] should be given a chance to do this kind of thing.''

But it is clear she has something different in mind to what may be envisaged by the major political parties. Asked to comment on the ALP's nomination of Olympian Nova Peris as a Senate candidate in the Northern Territory, Mrs Mabo replies: ''I don't want to comment.''

In general, she hopes her Australia Day honour helps the cause of indigenous rights everywhere - even though she knows the name Mabo will always attract its share of controversy.

''It all depends how people look at it … Some people will say, 'Why did she get that? Why would this happen to her?'''

Neil McMahon

The story Mabo's life remembered in bitter-sweet moment first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop