Eddie Mabo's wife fights for Australian South Sea Islanders

THE name Mabo will forever be synonymous with Aboriginal land rights in Australia.

Eddie Mabo's challenge to the legal doctrine of terra nullius (a land belonging to no one) changed the nature of Aboriginal politics in Australia and made him a hero to many people in this country.

Now his wife Bonita has her own story to tell and she is fighting for the recognition of Australia's South Sea Islander people as a distinct ethnic group.

Bonita Mabo was at Southern Cross University in Lismore yesterday as part of their annual Fusion Festival, celebrating ethnic diversity and culture.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the first Islander labourers being brought to Australia on indentured contracts to work on sugarcane farms.

Some were kidnapped, others were "blackbirded" (tricked or forced into working as labourers) and others were exploited by contracts they had very little chance of understanding. About 7000 were deported on commencement of the White Australia policy, but there are an estimated 30,000 decedents still living in Australia.

Bonita Mabo's grandfather was taken from Tanna, an island of Vanuatu, and in July this year she was able to return there for the first time.

Growing up, she said, her parents were frightened of passing on their language and customs and it wasn't until after Eddie died that she started talking about her own heritage.

"Eddie had his own culture and I'd never really spoken about myself, even to our children. But after he died I've been on a journey and invited them to come with me," she said.

On the trip back to Tanna, they managed to have six generations visiting at one time.

Since then Bonita has been on a speaking tour of Queensland and Northern NSW to spread the word about her ancestors' his- tory.

"Australia's history with South Sea Islanders and the harsh conditions that brought them here has all been hidden and it's taken too long to get out there," she said. "It's sad, but hopefully the government will listen and give us a fair deal and recognise us as a distinct ethnic group."

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