Australia

'Inspiration leader': Indigenous activist Bonita Mabo dies

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Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that this article does contain images of deceased persons.

Bonita Mabo, who fought for Indigenous land rights alongside her husband, Eddie 'Koiki' Mabo, has died.

Dr Mabo's family said she passed away peacefully at 12.30am this morning, surrounded by her loved ones. 

Robert Cole described the achievements of his cousin, Dr Mabo, and her husband as extraordinary. 

“What they achieved was not for themselves. It was for the nation," he said in a statement supplied to NITV News. 

The Australian South Sea Islander Alliance also released a statement confirming the death of their honorary patron.

"It is with a heavy heart that the ASSIPJ Board write to extend our condolences to the Mabo family for the loss of their Mother, Sister, Aunty, Cousin and Grandmother on this very day," the statement said.

The Australian South Sea Islander Alliance says Australia has lost one of the greatest matriarchs of all time.
The Australian South Sea Islander Alliance says Australia has lost one of the greatest matriarchs of all time.
Supplied

"Aunty Bonita's contribution to social justice and human rights for First Nations People and the Australian South Sea Islander recognition was monumental and relentless. A formidable 'Woman Tanna' Aunty Bonita will be greatly missed as Australia has lost one of the greatest matriarchs of all time."

Last week, Dr Mabo's work was recognised by James Cook University with an honorary doctorate.

Robert Cole said Dr Mabo was very proud of that award. 

"[She] was very happy that day but as soon as the James Cook University presentation was over, she went to bed and didn’t talk much more afterwards," he said. 

Bonita Mabo receives one of James Cook University’s highest awards, an Honorary Doctor of Letters.
Bonita Mabo receives one of James Cook University’s highest awards, an Honorary Doctor of Letters.
Mikaela Smith/IERC/James Cook University

The university award took note of her 45 years of campaigning for the rights of Indigenous Australians and Australian South Sea Islanders.

She co-founded the Black Community School in Townsville, the country's first Indigenous community school.

She also served 10 years on the Central Queensland Land Council during which time she assisted her late husband in the historic Mabo High Court case which acknowledged the presence and land rights of Indigenous Australians in Australia prior to British colonisation in 1788.

"We can all take inspiration from Bonita’s courage and determination," James Cook Chancellor Bill Tweddell said at the time.

Bonita Mabo.
Bonita Mabo.
The Australian South Sea Islander Alliance

'Gentle and inspirational' 

Tributes were posted on social media. 

Chief executive of SA Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement Cheryl Axleby described Bonita Mabo as "one of the most wonderful, gentle and inspirational Elder and Leader".

Co-Chair of National Naidoc Week Committee John Paul Janke invoked the slogan from this year's Naidoc Week: "Because of Her, We Can."

The national body representing Aboriginal health groups, NACCHO, passed on its condolences.

"Our thoughts are with the Mabo family for your very sad loss," the group posted on Twitter.

Queensland Deputy Premier Jackie Trad described Bonita Mabo as "an activist and a trailblazer". 

Greens senator Richard Di Natale said those in Australia and around the world are "mourning the loss of such a committed campaigner for human rights and social justice".

In Mabo v Queensland, Meriam man Eddie Mabo challenged the notion of 'Terra Nullius' that Australia was a 'land belonging to no one', in the High Court of Australia.

His victory and the resulting decision recognised native title rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia for the first time since colonisation.

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