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Thank you Mr Speaker,
Today our parliament and our nation pauses to remember and honour a remarkable woman. A person who gave hope and heart to so many, for so long.
When Dr Mabo met Eddie, she said it was love at first sight – for her and for her parents.
She remembered her father “would go crabbing and fishing and have it all cooked up” in time for Eddie’s arrival.
And, as she said: “with the fruits on the tree, Mum would say ‘don’t touch that one, that’s for Koiki’”.
She made a lot of sacrifices for her true love.
Raising ten children.
A night job peeling prawns to help raise her family.
Consciously sidelining much of her own Tanna culture, to bring their kids up according to Eddie’s traditions.
And of course she was there for all the false dawns and dark nights of the long struggle for justice.
Those emotional footsteps of a quest to overturn two centuries of legal discrimination and historical denial.
A victory that Eddie himself would not live to see.
Modest to a fault, she said of those years:
‘That was his fight. I was his wife but that’s as far as it went’.
We all know just how far that was. And we honour her for that today.
The House has heard of her extraordinary contribution that she has made in the years following Eddie’s passing.
A tireless champion for education.
Who for all the warmth and love in her heart, believed in firm discipline, in teaching kids self-respect and self-reliance.
She also fought hard for greater recognition of her people’s culture, which she believed had been forgotten, or pushed to the margins of our national story.
She wanted to promote an understanding of the lives and the history, the identity and the contribution to Australia of South Sea Islanders. This parliament should acknowledge the more than 60,000 of whom were brought to our continent between 1863 and 1904 from Tanna and Vanuatu and 80 or so other islands, sometimes against their will, or through deception, so-called blackbirding, working as indentured servants in the cotton and sugar plantations.
When diabetes began to affect her vision and despite the fear she had of missing her grandchildren grow up, she said:
“I’m losing my sight but that’s not going to shut my mouth up. The main thing is to talk to people and educate people.”
She did. She educated Australians.
I had privilege of catching up and meeting with her in Cairns back in 2015, I was struck by her vitality, by her fire – she exuded the pride and the power and the presence of a true matriarch.
For the 23rd anniversary of the Mabo decision, when the High Court overturned the discriminatory fiction of Terra Nullius, the Sydney Observatory named a star in honour of Eddie Mabo.
It’s one of the sprinkling of stars which sit behind the prominent points of our Southern Cross.
What was really great is in May this year, Dr Mabo was honoured with a star of her own.
So, from now on, wherever you are, from the city to the bush, from the mountains to the red centre to the beautiful islands in the north that the Mabos loved so deeply and fought so bravely for - I know in parliament we are very busy with many important things to do - but perhaps over coming days, on a cloudless evening, we could look up at the night sky, each one of us.
And look beyond the Southern Cross and think of those two stars up in the heavens. A bright, shining couple, reconciled once more.
And perhaps, in the future, our nation can navigate by their example and their inspiration. Perhaps they can help light our way to greater reconciliation.
Farewell, Dr Mabo.
Our love, respect and condolences to all who mourn your loss.