Thousands of people gathered together in Townsville over the weekend to take part in the 25th anniversary celebrations of the Mabo High Court victory on Saturday.
Commemoration ceremonies began on Friday morning with a stirring welcome to country ceremony by members of the Bindal and Wulgurukaba tribes. This was followed by a wreath laying ceremony at the Mabo Monument in South Townsville and a march through the city with many carrying flags and signs to mark the anniversary of the Mabo High Court case and the 1967 Referendum's 50th anniversary.
Gail Mabo, Eddie Koiki Mabo’s daughter, spoke to the large crowd about how important the 25th anniversary was to the people of the Torres Strait and acknowledged that this year's anniversary should be celebrated as a time where all Australians should come together and unite as one.
Unity was the theme of the weekend as members of the Torres Strait Islands and Aboriginal communities joined together to celebrate Reconciliation Week and remember the struggle to overturn Terra Nullius that Koiki had struggled for until his death in 1992.
Donald Whaleboat Senior, Koiki‘s cousin, who spoke at Fridays commemoration ceremony, said that Mabo is still being remembered and recognised for his hard work championing the cause of native title claims.
He echoed Gail Mabo’s call to say ‘Happy Mabo Day’ to as many people as possible, so that the Mabo story gets out there so that Australians can have a better understanding of the importance of Mabo Day. Mr Whaleboat then called on the government to make Mabo Day a national public holiday, which was met to thunderous applause from the gathered crowd.
The rest of the weekend's commemorations took on a large party atmosphere with events held across the city including a Unity in the Community Exhibition showcasing traditional arts and crafts, but the biggest event in town was the Unity concert and market stalls held on Saturday afternoon at the Jezzine Barracks in Townsville’s north; a site which holds great importance to the local Indigenous population as a former corroboree ground.
A welcome to country ceremony and speeches by the Mayor of Townsville Jennifer Hill and Gail Mabo opened the concert which was followed by various musical acts including the likes of Neil Murray of Warumpi Band, Hip-hop artist Mau Power, Former X-factor contestant Rochelle Pitt, Shane Howard of Goanna and singer songwriter John Butler, to name a few.
Butler joined calls for Mabo Day to become a national public holiday saying: “it seems crazy that we have one for someone who doesn’t even live in this country, so why cant we have a public holiday for someone who has done so much for this country.”
Bonita Mabo, Koiki’s wife said “it would mean so much to see the day become a public holiday, but I wouldn’t mind if it was only on a Saturday, so that it didn’t take people away from their work. Just to have a day to celebrate what Koiki has done for us all.”
Aunty Bonita, wearing a tshirt with a picture of her late husband on it with the words: ‘I’m proud of you darling’ was very touched by the large turnout of people to the event, with estimates of over 3000 people attending across the day.
Sunday nights Mabo Day celebration dinner marked the end of the weekends festivities with Labor MP Linda Burney speaking at the dinner.