...a moving experience...
The Supreme Court came to listen to those witnesses unable to make the journey south to Brisbane and to make a first-hand inspection of the areas of land claimed by the plaintiffs. But the experience went far beyond the legal technicalities. Nonie Sharp evokes the atmosphere on Mer at the time of the Supreme Court arrival, reporting that 'Meriam life moved in a crescendo' as the commencement of the Supreme Court sittings approached:
'All Murray Islanders were involved either directly in the court and its activities, or in providing the hospitality for which they are noted: food and green coconuts with straws for the visitors, and traditional dancing, including the shark dance, which symbolises the strength of the Murray Islanders as a blue-water seafaring people. In 1986 they had issued an invitation for the court to visit Mer; now the court had arrived.'
It was a moving experience - and one that had a strong impact on all the visitors to the islands, including Justice Moynihan. A small part of his three- volume decision appeared in the Queensland Reports of 1992. It includes the following personal comment:
'I took evidence in Brisbane, on Murray Island (three days) and on Thursday Island (two days). In addition to taking evidence on Murray Island I carried out an extensive inspection there with representatives of the parties (then including the Commonwealth), certain of the parties and, occasionally, some witnesses. Details of the inspection on the Murray Islands are found in ex. 148. I spent three nights and four days on Murray Island. I also took the opportunity to visit the site of Somerset, the administrative centre for the Straits until those activities were moved to Thursday Island.
I found the whole experience of inestimable value in arriving at such understanding of the evidence as is reflected in this determination and the reasons which support it.
Above all I am indebted to the people of Murray Island and their Council for their hospitality and tolerance of a major intrusion upon the tenor of their ways during the time we were on the Island.'
Keywords: evidence, Meriam culture, Murray Island, No Ordinary Judgement, Sharp, Dr. Nonie, Supreme Court of Queensland, witnesses, 1989
Sharp, Nonie 1996, 'No Ordinary Judgement', Aboriginal Studies Press, p 115. Still: Justice Moynihan presiding, Supreme Court hearing on Murray Island. Courtesy of Graham, Trevor.
Author: Kenna, Jonathan