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This small artwork was painted by Eddie Koiki Mabo, a Piadaram man, as a child while living at his home, Mer (also called Murray Island) in the Torres Strait Islands. According to his family, in the middle of Mabo's political struggles, he would often retreat to traditional singing, dancing, and painting as a way to relieve stress.
Mer is one of the three islands generally known as the Murray Group. Erub (Darnley) and Ugar (Stephens) Islands make up the remainder of this group. Mer is located about 225km from Thursday Island. For thousands of years, Mer has been, and continues to be, home to the eight tribes of the Meriam people: the Komet, Zagareb, Meuram, Magaram, Geuram, Peibre, Meriam-Samsep, Piadaram and Dauer Meriam.
A watercolour painting on paper that shows four stylised dragon heads, with two partial dragon heads visible at the left and right edges. The two heads at the top of the page are looking left and the two at the bottom are looking right. The background is decorated with purple coloured diagonal stripes. An inscription on the back in pencil reads "Koiki Mabo / Aged 15 yrs M".
The Bonita Mabo collection comprises four artworks created by the late Eddie Koiki Mabo. 'Dragon heads' and 'Still life with jar and bowl' - both watercolours on paper, were completed by Mabo as a teenager. 'Tree in landscape' - a pen, ink and watercolour on paper, and 'Dark palm trees' - a watercolour on paper, were completed by Mabo as an adult.
Eddie Koiki Mabo (1936 1992), a Torres Strait Islander from Murray Island, was a prominent Indigenous activist, best known for his role during the 1980s and 1990s land rights case 'Mabo and Others v. Queensland'. This ten year battle culminated in the High Court of Australia's 1992 landmark ruling which established that a form of Native title had existed in Australia prior to British settlement. This historic decision ruled that Murray Islanders held a system of land ownership at the time of colonisation that has continued to the present day, meaning that Islanders retain customary ownership and title to those lands. This decision overturned the legal doctrine of Terra Nullius, the basis for the legitimacy of settler claims over Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lands that had existed since 1788. This ruling remains one of the most significant events in the history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land rights activism. These four artworks are significant both as personal objects created by Mabo, and as objects which relate to his attachment to Murray Island.
Defining Moment: High Court decision in Mabo case recognises native title (1992)
Curriculum: Civics and Citizenship, History
School years: 8, 10
W 380mm x H 290mm
High Court decision in Mabo case recognises native title (1992)