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50 Treasures: The Torres Strait Islander Community lecture by Eddie Koiki Mabo

Our twenty-sixth treasure being released on Mabo Day is not a coincidence, for what better way is there to celebrate Mabo Day than with a lecture from Eddie Koiki Mabo himself? From the North Queensland Collection comes the Torres Strait Islander Community lecture by Eddie Koiki Mabo.

Bronwyn McBurnie answers the question "why is this significant?"

Primary sources, often found in the form of letters, diaries, manuscripts and recordings, are the raw material of serious enquiry. They are original records or documents created by someone who lived at the time of the event being studied. These sources enable us to get as close as possible to what actually happened. Many moments of unbridled excitement occur in the Library Special Collections when researchers discover primary sources which reveal the very first record of information pertaining to their subject.

Eddie Koiki Mabo. © James Cook University
This video, which depicts Eddie Koiki Mabo delivering a guest lecture about the Torres Strait Islander community to education students from the Townsville College of Advanced Education, is one such source.  It is now of national significance through its intimate connection to the High Court of Australia’s decision to recognise native title by sweeping aside the enlarged notion of terra nullius - which held that Indigenous peoples 'too low in the scale of social organization' could not be regarded as 'owners' of land - from the Australian jurisprudence.

During this fifty-minute recording, we hear the authoritative voice of Koiki Mabo, a confident and articulate multilingual man. He speaks of the history of the Torres Strait Islander community both in the Torres Strait and on the Australian mainland and the long term impact on his culture of the coming of the white man, from the first missionaries to current government administrators.

Eddie Koiki Mabo presenting a lecture. © James Cook University
Delivered as part of the Race and Culture course in 1982 it allows privileged access to a historical moment in time where Koiki Mabo is at the beginning of his decade-long land rights court battle. He had attended the Land Rights Conference in Townsville the year before, organised by the politically active JCU Student Association, and this is where he met with visiting lawyers and scholars who saw the merit in his case and agreed to support it.

The Race and Culture course was offered first by the Townsville College of Advanced Education and then the JCU School of Education from 1974 to 1988. It was introduced by Noel Loos, whose initial aim was to bring third year students face to face with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander activists. Loos was a close associate of Koiki Mabo and had been present, with Henry Reynolds, when they delivered the news to him that the land he thought he owned on Mer Island was in fact owned by the Crown. The course itself featured more than fifty guest lecturers representing a cross- section of important community representatives, of which Koiki Mabo was one.

The University Library was officially named the Eddie Koiki Mabo Library on May 21, 2008. Photograph by Rob Parsons, Through the Looking Glass Studio Photography, February 2020.
In many ways James Cook University, in the setting of Townsville, has historically provided platforms for dissenting voices to be heard through its conferences, associated organisations and educational courses. This lecture by Koiki Mabo takes its place as a precious treasure within this proud legacy.

Over the course of 2020, JCU Library's Special Collections will be unveiling 50 Treasures from the collections to celebrate 50 years of James Cook University.

Author Biography
Bronwyn McBurnie holds a 1st class Honours Degree in Fine Arts and Graduate Diplomas in Secondary Teaching and Library Science. Previously she has worked as a Librarian at State Library of Queensland, Faculty Librarian at JCU Library, Cultural Development Officer for local government, Public Gallery Director, Children's Librarian, and as a TAFE Library Manager. She has worked for JCU Library Special Collections, first as Special Collection's Librarian then as Manager of Special Collections, since October 2009.

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