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  • It is 25 years since the hearing of the Mabo case.
  • That was the third High Court case involving Eddie Mabo’s claim for native title.
  • The hearing took place nine years after the High Court proceedings were commenced.
  • There would be no Mabo case without the perceptive, dogged and fearless advocacy of the rights of the indigenous peoples by the Mabo lawyers.

On 3 June 2017, the 25th anniversary of the High Court’s Mabo decision, there will be many good reasons to celebrate the ruling and its aftermath – including honouring the unsung heroes of Mabo: the lawyers involved.

The making of Mabo: the initiative

It all started in late August 1981 when lawyer Barbara Hocking presented a paper to a legal conference in Townsville. The conference was co-chaired by Eddie Mabo. A fellow presenter was a local solicitor, Greg McIntyre. Thereafter, Mabo and two fellow Miriam People – the Peoples were also called Meriam, interchangeably, throughout the High Court decisions – David Passi and James Rice, engaged McIntyre and Hocking to institute proceedings on their behalf, and on behalf of their family groups, seeking declarations that they were the owners (in the sense of holders of native title by virtue of their traditional laws and customs) of the Murray Islands. (These are Mer [aka Meer], Dawar [Daua] and Waier [Waua]). A few months later, Ron Castan QC was engaged. Hocking left the team in 1986 to become a member of a Commonwealth Tribunal. McIntyre and Castan stayed for the long haul, which ended more than 10 years later.

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