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Aboriginal Civil Rights

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    Aboriginal Civil Rights Find out who Eddie Mabo, Vincent Lingiari and Albert Namatjra was. What was their contribution to civil rights, equality and indigenous welfare in Australia? Eddie Mabo Eddie Mabo was born Eddie Koiki Sambo but changed his name later on in life, he was born on Mer Island (Murray Island) in the Torres Strait in 1936. His mother died during infancy which left him to be raised by his uncle; Benny Mabo. After a teenage prank that ended badly, Eddie was exiled from his home which ended up in him living in Townsville and working on the railways.

    Through his work he met a number of other people like himself and soon became a spokesperson for the railway workers and frequently voiced their opinions to trade union officials. Eddie opened the first black school in the area which was how he started making a difference to the people in his community. He married Bonita Neehow when he was 23 in 1959; they went on to raise ten children. By the time he was 31 years old Eddie got work as a gardener at James Cook University. He began to join in with the university life; he would sit in seminars, go to the library and read books about what white people said about his own people.

    In 1981 a Land Rights’ conference was held at the university, in which Eddie made a speech about land ownership and land inheritance on his home island. There was a lawyer at the conference who suggested that there should be a test case to claim land rights. The people of Murray Island decided that they would be the ones to challenge the claim of terra nullius in the High Court, Eddie was chosen as leader for this. It took ten years and after investigation the court found out that Eddie was not actually the son of Benny Mabo and so had no right to inherit Mabo land.

    He was devastated by this but did not give up; he perused the matter and appealed it to the High Court of Australia. Eddie died of cancer in January 1992 aged 52, five months after his death on the 3rd of June the High Court announced its historic decision; overturning the legal fiction of Terra Nullius. This was the first time that legal recognition had been given to the fact that the land of Australia had been owned by indigenous people prior to European settlement. For his amazing work Eddie was awarded 1992 Australian of the Year.

    Vincent Lingiari Vincent Lingiari was born in 1908 and was a member of the Gurindji people. In 1966 he led his people off the Wave Hill station which was where they were employed. The working conditions were extremely poor and the company would not even pay them $25 a week. The walk off was a protest against these conditions but was aimed at a bigger target than Vesteys who were the company that owned the station. Prior to 1968 it was against the law to pay an indigenous worker more than a specified amount in goods and money.

    The Gurindji people established the Wattie Creek Camp and demanded that some of their traditional lands be returned; this was the start of an eight year fight. The Aboriginal people went on strike for 9 years; during this time support for their cause grew as the struggle got harder. The protest eventually led to the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act 1976 which gave indigenous Australians freehold title to traditional lands in the NT and the power to negotiate over mining and development on those lands as well as the type of compensation they would like.

    During an emotional ceremony in 1975 the Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam poured the sand into Vincent Lingiari’s hands and handed the Wave Hill station back to the Gurindji people, this event was very important and symbolic in our country’s history. Vincent was named a Member of the Order of Australia for his services to the indigenous people on the 7th of June 1976. Every year up until his death in January of 1988 he would attend the Gurindji’s annual re-enactment of the walk off. For the Gurindji people, Vincent Lingiari was an amazing man, a leader and a fighter for his people’s rights; this is what made him a national figure.

    He was confronted with so many challenges along his fight for Aboriginal rights but he kept going and in doing so he won a massive victory for his people. Albert Namatjra Albert Namatjra was born on the Hermannsburg Mission in 1902 to two indigenous Aranda parents. At the age of three he was baptized when his parents converted to Lutheran Christianity but Albert also initiated into manhood through the traditional ways of his people. Albert worked as a camel driver which took him through the country that he would later paint; the dreamtime places of his Aranda people.

    He had now married a girl named Ilkalita who was a member of a neighbouring community, they built a house near the mission and Albert supported his growing family by doing small odd jobs. One of these included making and selling pieces of artwork. In 1934 two artists from Melbourne visited the mission to exhibit their paintings, this really inspired Albert to paint seriously and two years later one of the Melbourne painters was teaching Albert how to paint, he learnt fast and had a natural gift. This led to his first exhibition in 1938 in Melbourne, it sold out, and exhibitions in Sydney and Adelaide were the same.

    His success brought plenty of money and he wanted to use it to secure a future for his ten-child family. He tried to lease a cattle station but wasn’t allowed as an Aborigine, he then tried to buy land in Alice Springs and again he was rejected. Albert thought this was weird; he was a man who was a top artist in the country, treated like a celebrity but was not even allowed to own land. The public were outraged by this and pushed the government to grant him and his wife full citizenship which did happen in 1957. They could now vote and build a house anywhere they liked.

    However, it took a whole ten years for the government to grant similar rights to the rest of the indigenous population. Albert could now buy alcohol and as was Aboriginal custom he was expected to share with his friends but by doing this he broke the laws of the white people. In 1958 the police charged Albert with supplying alcohol to Aboriginal people, he denied the charge but the court did not agree. He spent two months in prison but was not the same man after being let out, his passion for painting had gone and so had his will to live, sadly he died in 1959 at just 57.

    Albert and his wife were the first Aboriginals to be granted citizenship to Australians which was a huge achievement at the time. His life showed white Australians the injustice of racist laws and he contributed to significant changes for his people. http://hiddenheroesofaustralianhistory. wetpaint. com/page/Eddie+Mabo http://www. abc. net. au/schoolstv/australians/emabo. htm http://indigenousrights. net. au/person. asp? pID=970 http://www. freewebs. com/juswhe/files/Lingiari. pdf http://hiddenheroesofaustralianhistory. wetpaint. com/page/vincent+lingiari http://www. abc. net. au/schoolstv/australians/namat. htm

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