• Alo Tapim, near his home on Murray Island (Supplied)Source: Supplied
NITV spoke with Torres Strait Island elder Alo Tapim about life on Murray Island and the significance of Mabo Day to the community.
Karina Marlow

3 Jun 2016 - 8:30 AM  UPDATED 3 Jun 2019 - 10:57 AM

What is your connection with Murray Island?

I was born here and the rest of my life I’ve been in the Torres Strait. I’ve been away for about nine or ten years break to work in the railways down south but my life more or less is here.

How has life changed on the Torres Strait Islands during that time?

There have been new things, mainly changes in Government I suppose and the way the Government engages with the people: the ’67 referendum… and of course Mabo and now we have our sea rights. A lot of things are changing and the Government is recognising us more and more. Looking back there was an attempt to cover up a lot of the past but things are starting to come to light: the unpaid wages, the Stolen Generation. There is still a long way to go, to recognise us and the gap that needs to be closed.

What have you been involved in within the community?

At the moment, I’m in the Cultural Committee in the Torres Shire Council, based on Thursday Island and I have also been a committee member in the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Health Council. I’ve met representatives from the World Health organization (WHO) who came here.

I’m now of an age where I am more or less an elder in the community. There are a lot of young leaders that are constantly in touch with me with things that bother them. I recognize that there is a need for the younger people in that area. With the community consultation we’ve come across younger people who have put their hands up to run the Mabo Day celebrations. It’s happening for the first time, the young people are going to do it.

How is Mabo Day normally celebrated on Murray Island?

We celebrate in the Torres Strait, especially on Murray Island, with feasting. Feasting involves everyone, even the service providers, they sponsor and we are thankful for them. The messages that come out are mainly for our kids. The schoolchildren take part and I heard this afternoon that they are practicing traditional dances. The adults are practicing also so there will be dancing and fishing.

What is the significance of Mabo Day for the community living within the Torres Strait?

Mabo Day is got to do with land rights. There’s native title and I always tell that them that native title only came about after 1992. It became a household word but before that it was the Meriam ‘ownership’ or ‘owner of things, owner of land’ and I look at Mabo as an advocate of that. Mabo took the old traditional lore and called it ‘Malo’: do not touch things that are not yours or do not step on someone else’s land.

Eddie Mabo took that message across and this is very important and very significant for our life, especially for the Meriam, as Eddie Mabo is a Meriam man. It was our interpretation, not the interpretation of judges or whoever, it is how we see it and this is very important.