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Heroes of Native Title honoured through grave restorations

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2 images side by side of a gravesite featuring blue tiles over the grave and a black headstone. Behind is a flag pole featuring the Aboriginal, Australian and Torres Strait Islands flag.
Restored gravesite of Mrs Celuia Mapo Salee.
20 Mar 2019

The High Court’s 1992 Mabo Decision to recognise Native Title was a landmark event in Australian history.

The court case which led to the decision began with the determination of 6 people from Mer Island in the Torres Strait, an island which now holds a significant place in Australian history.

The plaintiffs were Eddie Koiki Mabo, Sam Passi, Reverend Dave Passi, James Rice and Mrs Celuia Mapo Salee. To celebrate and preserve their historic contribution, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) supported a project to restore and beautify their gravesites.

‘The project began in 2017 as part of celebrations for the 25th anniversary of the High Court’s judgement on the Mabo Native Title case,’ Francis Loban, PM&C Adviser, said.

‘We worked with My Pathway, the Community Development Program provider, on the development of an Indigenous Advancement Strategy funding application to undertake the project, and ensured appropriate consultation with the community and families were undertaken,’ Francis said.

Eddie Mabo’s gravesite was restored in 2017 and the remaining gravesites were restored more recently.

‘We supported My Pathway to connect with the right people, and to ensure that cultural sensitives around negotiating and working with families were respected,’ Francis said.

‘It was really important that the restorations reflected the wishes of the family and community.’

The result has been well received by the families and community, and the gravesites incorporate totems, plants and other features of significance to each of the Plaintiffs.

‘For example, Mr Kabere’s gravesite incorporates Croton feature plants, which were a personal favourite of his selected by his family,’ Francis said.

‘Those individual touches are really wonderful, and the families and community appreciated the opportunity to contribute to the decision-making.’

And while Mabo Day (on 3 June) celebrations are significant on Mer Island every year, Francis thinks that this year might be particularly special following the restoration of all gravesites.

‘I think the community will really look forward to it, and it will be a memorable day,’ Francis said.

Find out more

Mer Island is the most easterly inhabited island of the Torres Strait Islands archipelago, and home to some 450 people.

The Australian Government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy funds and delivers a range of programs targeting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Its Community Development Program supports job seekers in remote Australia to build skills, address barriers and contribute to their communities through a range of flexible activities.

My Pathway has a vision to build stronger communities through the success of individuals, families and communities.

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