EventsMilbi FestivalGail Mabo reflects on her history with community

Gail Mabo reflects on her history with community

Gail Mabo Milbi Festival
Legacy: Reflections on Mabo curator Gail Mabo in front of ink and watercolour on paper artwork by Ronald McBurnie at Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery.

Community members gathered to listen to the stories from co-curator of Legacy: Reflections on Mabo, Gail Mabo, as she connected her father Eddie Mabo’s life through artwork as part of the Milbi Festival.

Almost 30 years ago a landmark decision was made in Australia after a long battle by Eddie Koiko Mabo, a passionate campaigner for Indigenous Land Rights and the man behind the Native Title Act.

Gail is a contemporary visual artist and a Meriam woman who comes from a Peidram Clan from Mer Island in the Torres Strait Islands.

Visiting the Bundaberg Region for the first time, Gail said she was excited to share stories with community members and spark a conversation between them.

“It’s about putting the challenge out to people to find out what they thought of Mabo, did they know the man? Did they know any information other than his name in the news?

“I celebrate my dad to the highest level I can.”

Gail said as a result of the 25 Indigenous and non-Indigenous artworks in Legacy: Reflections on Mabo, she was able to reflect and understand why her father was so passionate about fighting for his land.

Growing up with parents who changed the history of Australia, Gail said life was just like that of the average family, and she recalled many fond memories.

“At the end of the day we were just a normal household. For 15 of the years that Dad was fighting, he was just Dad,” she said.

“When he came from a court case, he’d say ‘okay, let’s go fishing’ and we’d go fill up our freezer full of fish then we’d go visiting family up at Atherton and get all the potatoes and whatever else and bring it all back… so our house had ample food; Mum kept the house going.”

Gail treasures the memory she had as a teenager that combines her passion for art along with the sentiment, she holds close of her father, when he was studying to be a teacher.

“When I was 15 he said something funny to me,” she said.

“It was when he was studying to be a teacher at the time, he had to do a study of self and he had to do a portrait – he was sitting looking in the mirror in his room.

“I looked over his shoulder and I said, ‘but Dad, your eyes aren’t that golden colour’ and he said, ‘no, it’s what we want them to look like’.

“As he was putting some more lines on his picture he said, ‘you know, my girl one day all of Australia is going to know my name.”

Gail said the moment when the Mabo decision came down in June 1992, it was a bittersweet time for her after losing her father to cancer six months earlier.

“It was the price that was paid, it took a toll on his life,” she said.

“That day I was sitting in a car holding my son, looking at the clouds and they were rolling in and I said, ‘he is moving the furniture to dance – he is up there celebrating his win.”

Gail Mabo Milbi Festival
Bundaberg's Cheryl Wright said her family were neighbours with the Mabo family in Townsville during the 1970s.

During the artist talk event on Sunday, Bundaberg local Cheryl Wright reintroduced herself to Gail, as the pair were neighbours in Townsville during the 1970s.

Cheryl said her sons Ross and Peter would spend hours with the Mabo family and at the time she didn’t know the significance of the work Eddie Mabo was doing.

“Gail was just a little girl when I lived next to her. After all these years I had to come and see how Gail was,” Cheryl said.

“They (the Mabo family) had a little bus and Peter would enjoy going with them all.

“I think Eddie achieved quite a lot and more than what he ever thought he could.”

Gail said visiting the Bundaberg Region for the first time was a breath of fresh air for her as the community welcomed her with open arms.

“My little tour I had yesterday was an eye-opening moment to see how beautiful this region actually is,” she said.

“I’ll go home and tell people just how fantastic the region is.

“Walking down the street, people are curious, everyone looks at you and they say hello – that’s refreshing to find.”

‘Legacy: Reflections on Mabo' is presented by Umbrella Studio Contemporary Arts and toured by Museums & Galleries Queensland. It has been generously assisted by the Australian Government’s Visions of Australia Program; the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, an initiative of the Australian, State and Territory Governments; and is supported by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland.