• The funeral procession departs Townsville Stadium after the funeral service Bonita Mabo. (AAP)Source: AAP
The 'mother of native title' has been remembered as a passionate advocate for the Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and South Sea Islander communities.
Ella Archibald-Binge, Natalie Ahmat, Liz Deep-Jones

6 Dec 2018 - 5:30 PM  UPDATED 6 Dec 2018 - 5:30 PM

Around a thousand people filled Townsville Stadium to farewell Bonita Mabo at a state funeral on Thursday. 

The prominent First Nations educator, activist and elder died late last month, aged 75.

The wife of the late land rights campaigner, Eddie 'Koiki' Mabo, she is remembered as a passionate advocate for Australia's Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and South Sea Islander communities.

Mrs Mabo's grandson, Kaleb Cohen, penned a touching letter to his grandmother, who was affectionately known as "Nornie".

Mr Cohen read the letter to his grandmother in her final days in hospital, and read it aloud at her funeral at her request. 

"You are the reason I can walk with my chest out and my head held high," he said in an emotional address. 

"You are the reason I feel proud to be a black man in this country. You are the reason why no one will ever take away my culture, my heritage and who I am as a person.

"You have given me the gift to make others feel proud of who they are and where they come from – for this I am forever grateful.

"I’m so proud to say that  I’m not just Koiki Mabo’s grandson – I am Bonita and Koiki Mabo’s grandson."

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk hailed Dr Mabo as an "unlikely giant". 

"I say ‘unlikely’ because Bonita Mabo was not imposing - not physically. And yet this slight woman from Ingham would change the course of history," said Ms Palaszczuk.

"Bonita’s story is powerful. It’ll be told and retold as a beacon to generations to follow her lead."

Mrs  Mabo was a Malanbarra and Australian South Sea Islander woman. 

Her father was taken from Vanuatu in a practice known as blackbirding, which saw South Sea Islander people coerced into leaving their homes and forced into indentured labour on Queensland's sugar cane and cotton plantations.

In 1958, she met Eddie Mabo and they went on to marry and have ten children. 

Mrs Mabo worked alongside her husband in his fight for land rights, which ultimately overturned the concept of Terra Nullius - that Australian land belonged to no one - in a landmark 1992 high court verdict.

The Mabo decision paved the way for the Native Title Act of 1993. 

She was also a campaigner in her own right, co-founding the country's first Indigenous school in Townsville in 1972 and serving ten years on the Central Queensland Land Council. 

The matriarch was recognised in the Order of Australia in 2013. 

She died only days after receiving an honorary doctorate from James Cook University (JCU). 

JCU Chancellor Bill Tweddell said the university wanted to recognise Mrs Mabo's individual achievements. 

"It was to recognise her individual contribution, her own contribution to Indigenous education and as a campaigner for the rights of Indigenous Australians and South Sea Islander Australians," Mr Tweddell told NITV News. 

He said Mrs Mabo made a speech upon receiving the award - one of her last public statements. 

Her words were directed to the young people watching on: "You must continue the good work."

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