• With a law degree already under her belt, Hannah is well on her way to becoming a practising lawyer. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Twenty-five years after Eddie "Koiki" Mabo's historic land rights victory, his granddaughter, law graduate Hannah Duncan, is forging her own path to help her community.
Ella Archibald-Binge

31 May 2017 - 10:38 AM  UPDATED 31 May 2017 - 10:40 AM

Hannah Duncan grew up hearing stories about her legendary grandfather, Eddie Mabo. 

"I always knew about my grandfather and his legacy, because it was spoken about so often when we were younger," the 21-year-old tells NITV News.

"We were told things like, that he was a big sweetheart, a big softie, but he was passionate about what he was fighting for and wouldn't let anything get him down. Yeah, just a fighter."

The iconic land rights activist is remembered as the man from Murray Island (Mer) who overturned the notion of "terra nullius" in a landmark court ruling in 1992, though he didn't live to see the verdict.  

WATCH: Gail Mabo reflects on her father's land rights victory

Though Hannah never had the chance to meet her grandfather, her family has always instilled a sense of pride in his legacy. 

"Knowing my family's history did have a big impact. For me and a lot of my other cousins, it was inspiration of what we could do, or gave us pride in our heritage and ancestry," she says.  

So it's perhaps no coincidence that as a teenager, Hannah developed an interest in law. 

"I've been interested in it for a while, but when you're younger, it's kind of a pipe dream," says the proud Torres Strait Islander.

'Someone told me law's like maths, just with words, so then that was pretty scary.'

 "I got more interested in grade 12 when I was deciding what I wanted to do... and it was suggested that I might be good at it, so I thought, 'oh I'll give it a go'.

"I didn't think I could do it actually. In school, I didn't like maths very much, because I wasn't great at it. Then someone told me law's like maths, just with words, so then that was pretty scary."

Despite her reservations, Hannah applied to study law through an Indigenous scholarship at Bond University on the Gold Coast. 

She still remembers the moment she was accepted. Her grandmother, Eddie's wife Bonita, was by her side. 

"We were in the car. I got the phone call. [It] was like yeah you got it. Anyway, she just burst into tears," Hannah recalls.  

That proud moment was only amplified when Hannah graduated earlier this year. 

"[My grandmother] didn't get to come down. She didn't get the chance, but she called me on the phone, she was in tears. [She] was like, 'Hannah, I'm very proud of you'. Yeah, she's a sweetheart." 

While many expected her to move into native title law, Hannah has her sights set on the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, where she's just begun a placement while studying a graduate diploma in legal practice - the next step in becoming a practising lawyer. 

"My first goal is to hopefully get a job in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, and that's a body that's separate from the courts," she explains.

"It's a cheaper option for people to take if they don't like the decisions that a government department has made, such as Centrelink... It just gives people a second shot at having their applications approved and holding the government accountable."

Ultimately, the budding lawyer wants to help close the gap between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

"I think there could be an avenue for negotiating between Indigenous people and the government. That's why I'd like to be involved in that area."  

Throughout her studies, Hannah has mentored First Nations youth through the uni's Indigenous Awareness Society, and she has some sound advice.

"Most definitely take the opportunity," she says.

"There's a fair amount of pressure with the family name."

"I still think I'm a fairly average person - nothing too special - but if you think the same, just go for it.

"I think asking for help's a big thing, because I couldn't have completed or got to where I am without the help along the way. Especially, if I didn't understand, I'd just have to fight my embarrassment and just go for it, and yeah it can get you places." 

Yet, she still doubts her own ability to follow in her famous grandfather's footsteps. 

"There's a fair amount of pressure with the family name," Hannah laughs.

"But... there's such a high standard that my grandfather set, and even kind of upholding a legacy, that's enough. I don't expect to meet the same standard."

But with so many expectations already surpassed, who knows what the next 25 years will hold?

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