...Murray Islanders Prepare To Give Evidence...
Meetings of Murray Islanders on Mer and in Townsville had affirmed support for the court action. Many were excited at the prospect of giving evidence in support of the claim. There was relief that, finally, after all the intricacies of pleadings and preliminary legal arguments, Justice Moynihan was ready to hear from the Murray Islanders themselves. Nonie Sharp records that:
'On 27 January and 9 February 1986 respectively, the Meriam people's preference to give evidence was expressed in resolutions passed at meetings of Murray Islanders at Mer and in Townsville. These supported the land claim and reaffirmed Murray Islanders' ownership of lands which they had "farmed continuously from times long before written history and which were handed down to us by our ancestors" [Nonie Sharps's notes from meeting on 27/1/86]. The Islanders explained their perception of the reason for the land claim: the existence of proprietary rights in land and the presence of boundary markers between allotments of land; and the continuation of an indigenous system of law, known as Malo's law, which upholds both a system of land ownership and the practice of a style of cultivation.
'In emphasising their uninterrupted inheritance of visibly boundaried land, the Meriam issued an invitation to the judges to visit the Murray Islands and see the boundaries, some ancient, for themselves. They also expressed confidence in their ability to trace their genealogical ties to the land allotments that they were claiming to times before annexation or sustained intrusion (known as chains of title in English law).
'There were, too, other practical and legal considerations which impelled the plaintiffs' counsel to press for an early hearing of the facts. But the wish of the Meriam people to take part in the land claim was palpably evident at this stage. In July 1986, counsel obtained written proofs of evidence from those Meriam people chosen to appear as witnesses.'
Keywords: inheritance, Malo's laws, Moynihan, Justice Martin, Murray Island, native title claim, No Ordinary Judgement, plaintiffs, Sharp, Dr. Nonie, Townsville, 1986-89
Sharp, Nonie 1996, 'No Ordinary Judgement', Aboriginal Studies Press, p 36.
Author: Kenna, Jonathan