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Murry Island handed back after court ruling

Extract from Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC Online, on June 14th 2001.

LINDA MOTTRAM: In the Torres Strait today on Dauar Island, the Federal Court is rapping up unfinished Mabo business.

The Chief Justice will certify a consent Native Title determination proclaiming that Dauar and Waiar Islands belong to Murray Islanders. It marks the end of a long struggle left over from the High Court's recognition of Native Title on Murray Island but not on Dauar and Waiar. John Taylor reports from Queensland.

JOHN TAYLOR: On the 3rd June 1992 the High Court delivered the Mabo judgment for Murray Islanders, or as they call themselves the Meriam People. The Court recognised Native Title on Murray Island, locally known as Mer, and destroyed the legal belief that, prior to European colonisation, Australia was terra nullius, an empty land.

Eddie Mabo had died a few months before the judgment, his fellow plaintiffs James Rice and Father David Passey, tasted legal success. But it was bitter-sweet. The Meriam People believed they were the traditional owners of not just Mer but also two other islands. A channel about 900 metres wide separates Mer from Dauar and Waiar islands which lie closely adjacent to each other to the south of Mer. Altogether they're referred to as the Murray Isles.

But the High Court left undecided the Meriam People's Native Title rights over the two islands included in the Mabo application. Now those rights have been recognised with the consent of the Queensland Government. For 72 year old James Rice, it's the end of a long wait.

JAMES RICE: I'm happy about it because they are part of Murray Island. Every people at Dauar and Mer are using the same language and the same conditions they are living, in the same ways of life that we are living.

JOHN TAYLOR: Federal Court Chief Justice, Murray Black, has travelled to the Torres Strait to make today's announcement. James Rice says there will be great celebration.

JAMES RICE: We are originals. I am original to our island. My ancestor was from Dauar. I am original. James Rice is original for Dauar. We are, the Dauar Islanders, are part of Mer Islands. We have the same law; we have the same ways; we are using the same languages.

JOHN TAYLOR: Eddie Mabo never saw Australia recognise the Murray Isles as belonging to his people. The Mabo judgment which delivered Mer was only part of the battle. Today wraps up unfinished business.

LINDA MOTTRAM: John Taylor reporting.



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