Food For Our People
Today people fish in their own clan waters and within their own fish traps. However, in court, both Rev Dave Passi and James Rice said they didn't mind other Meriam fishing in their waters or collecting turtle eggs from their beaches at Dauar and Waier. They were displaying a sharing spirit 'food for our people', as Rev Passi said; however, other Meriam today have said that unrelated Murray Islanders must ask.
Mr Justice Moynihan took the two plaintiffs' display of generosity towards their people as a sign that the system was lost. The claims to distant reefs and fishing grounds beyond the three-nautical mile limit defined by the Australian state as Commonwealth territory were withdrawn. According to the Murray Islanders' legal counsel, the Commonwealth, the second party disputing the land-sea claim, had indicated that it would adopt a less benevolent stance than it had taken so far if the sea claims within its jurisdiction were pursued.
During the visit of members of the Supreme Court of Queensland in May 1989, the Chairman of the Murray Islands Community Council, Ron Day, expressed publicly an underlying belief. While the Meriam were contesting the Anglo-Australian law that the Murray Islands were 'waste lands of the Crown', whatever the outcome, the islands still belonged to the Meriam landowners. As he was to make clear shortly, nobody would be able to take away Meriam owners' rights to their 'plots of sea' or distant fishing stations like for instance, East Cay (Kerged).
The cultural divide on sea perspectives found major public expression in 1998 on another part of the northern coast. The first test case on marine ownership since Mabo, was brought by indigenous applicants from Croker Island, 200 kilometres northeast of Darwin against the Northern Territory and the Commonwealth. The Aboriginal Islanders claimed that their dry land and foreshore, reefs, waters and seabed form an integral whole. Once again a cultural divide concerning the ownability of marine space formed the heart of the dispute.
Keywords: Croker Island, Day, Ron, fishing, food gathering, land ownership, Mer, Moynihan, Justice Martin, ownership, Passi, Reverend Dave, plaintiffs, property law, Rice, James, sea, Supreme Court of Queensland, 1989-1998
Author: Sharp, Nonie