Barrister for the plaintiffs, Bryan Keon Cohen, provides a useful summary of the documentary evidence which was tendered:
'This material included historical works dealing with first contact in the Torres Straits and subsequent activities of sailors and bech -de -mer fishermen; archival notes and five published volumes of an English anthropological expedition to Murray Island in the 1890's, led by Professor A.C. Haddon; forty two volumes of Queensland departmental files dealing with the entire historical administration of the Island,; two large bound volumes of the Murray Island court reports; many maps, drawings, diagrams and photos detailing the Murray Islands and the particulars of land, sea and reef portions claimed; a large work of genealogy concerning the Meriam people and many official Queensland government documents (orders, proclamations, leases, correspondence, acts and regulations) recording over 100 years of dealings by Queensland authorities with, inter alia, various portions of land on the Islands. This material related particularly to the plaintiffs' allegations that Queensland had not extinguished but had 'recognised' by its official conduct the plaintiffs' claimed traditional rights and interests in the Murray Islands.'
From this wealth of material, two exhibits of an anthropological and historical nature are particularly noteworthy.
Exhibit 284: Murray Island Court Records.
In the 1890s the Queensland Government established the Murray Island Native Court, comprising the elected Murray Island Council. Its functions included the resolution of land disputes between Murray Islanders. Over 400 decisions had been recorded, some of which had been signed by officers of the Queensland Government. The unearthing of these records during preparations for the claim was described by Greg McIntyre as 'an exciting discovery' and transcribed accounts of approximately 100 cases decided between 1908 and 1981 were tendered.
As Moynihan noted in his determination published 16 November 1990, 'the plaintiffs submit that the written records of the Murray Island Council and in particular the court cases heard by the Council in the capacity of the Murray Island Court and recorded transactions are a unique and remarkable written record of the operation of the traditional system of Murray Island land practices and principles.'
In addition, the plaintiffs also pointed to the fact that on many occasions the Island Court's decisions were signed by the Queensland Government officer responsible for the administration of Murray island. The plaintiffs submitted that these were further instances of conduct by the Queensland government which amounted to de facto recognition of the plaintiffs' traditional native title.
Exhibit 117: The Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Strait.
In 1898, Professor A.C. Haddon, of Cambridge University, led an expedition to the Torres Strait which included approximately nine weeks fieldwork on Murray Island.
'Interestingly, this material was tendered by the defendant State of Queensland without objection by the plaintiffs and its contents were relied upon by both parties. In presenting evidence regarding the 'chain of title' to lands claimed by the plaintiffs, reference was made to the genealogies collected by Dr. W.H.R. Rivers who was a member of the expedition led by Haddon. The plaintiffs also drew upon comments in the Reports (particularly Volume VI) regarding kinship and property inheritance to buttress their arguments regarding the continuity of the essential components of Meriam social organisation.'
Keywords: anthropology, Cambridge Anthropological Expedition, evidence, Haddon, A.C., Keon-Cohen, Bryan, land disputes, Meriam culture, Moynihan, Justice Martin, Murray Island Native Court, plaintiffs, Queensland
Source: Keon Cohen, Bryan 'Some Problems of Proof: the Admissibility of Traditional Evidence', in 'Mabo: A Judicial Revolution', Queensland University Press., Still: AC Haddon during the first expedition to Torres Strait, 1888. Courtesy of Haddon Collection, Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. (Catalogue No:N.22898.ACH2).
Author: Kenna, Jonathan
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