Airdate: Mabo

ABC1 marks the 20th Anniversary of the landmark High Court ruling on native title with the TV premiere of the anticipated telemovie, Mabo.

Starring Jimi Bani and Deborah Mailman, this is widely expected to be one of the dramas of the year. It will have its World Premiere just days earlier at the Sydney Film Festival on Thursday, 7 June.

This telemovie tells the story of Eddie ‘Koiki’ Mabo, the Torres Strait Islander, who left school at 15, yet spearheaded the High Court challenge that overthrew the fiction of terra nullius.

It traces Koiki’s life, through his early exile from his beloved Murray Island, his years of working on the trochus trawlers and the outback railways, to his decision to embrace activism. It also tells of his struggles to begin a school specifically for Aboriginal and Islander children.

Considered a ‘troublemaker’ by the white authorities, when Koiki tries to return to Murray Island to visit his dying father, the Murray Island Council – four times – denies him entry. His mistake, it seems, is choosing to be a black activist under the racist, repressive ‘police state’ of Bjelke Petersen’s Queensland.

When he learns that land on Murray he believes he owns, is legally gazetted as Crown Land, Koiki resolves to fight. This propels him into a ten year, life or death struggle against three mighty foes: the Queensland and Commonwealth governments, and the opposition, fear and conservatism of the authorities on Murray Island itself. Koiki, his fellow plaintiffs, their supporters and their legal team have few financial resources, up against the all-powerful Queensland government which uses every tactic in its arsenal. Year after year the struggle goes on, Koiki feeding his family on yams from the garden and fish from the river, giving his money, his strength, his health and, ultimately, his life to this titanic battle.

We learn as well of the tender love story of Koiki and Bonita, the woman he met as a teenager, and loved through thirty years as they raised ten children. And of the deep love and partnership that fuelled their unflagging fight to change the face of Australia forever.

8:30pm Sunday June 10 on ABC1.

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