...Meriam challenges to the plaintiffs' claims...
Nonie Sharp provides a helpful analysis of the evidence given by Murray Islanders giving evidence on behalf of Queensland:
'Eddie Mabo's claims to 36 plots of land were the subject of dispute by other Meriam; of the nine Meriam witnesses called by Queensland, five were called specifically to dispute his claims. No Meriam people challenged the claims made by Reverend Dave Passi or James Rice.
Some Meriam witnesses who appeared for Queensland also disputed the boundaries of particular plots of land claimed by Eddie Mabo. In doing so, they were reaffirming the existence of a Meriam land tenure system and what they saw as their places in it. In different circumstances, Queensland witness Marwer Depoma, an elderly Meriam man, would have made an excellent witness for the plaintiffs. As it was, in the context of a fierce boundary dispute with Eddie Mabo over land adjoining his own village at Sebeg in Komet clan territory, he could hardly have let the occasion pass without using the Kole court as an arena in which to press his claim. He did so most vigorously [which] may itself be taken as graphic confirmation of the existence and strength of a system of ownership rights in land...
Two other defence witnesses, whose evidence challenged the claim made by the plaintiffs and many of their witnesses that the Meriam people continued to follow Malo's law, indicated by their statement as that the same principles continued, even though they now followed them in the name of Christianity. Other Meriam must ask permission to use my land, "that's the right way", said a senior Meriam witness for the defence, who lived at Thursday Island. The witness said that it was not the law of Malo any more, that was only in the early days; "it's the same thing" he added, effectively verifying the plaintiffs' claim.
The only Meriam witness called by Queensland who challenged more or less comprehensively most of the evidence recorded in Eddie Mabo's 65 page statement was George Passi, brother of Sam and Reverend Dave Passi. He contested Mabo's claim that the Malo-Bomai institution was a traditional government with a mediating role in land disputes. He also challenged all the plaintiffs' statements, including that of his eldest brother, Sam, that Malo's Law was used by the Murray Island Court in his lifetime to settle land disputes...
Notwithstanding his claim to the disappearance of Malo as a guiding light, George Passi told the court that the "basic principles of proper conduct", especially those relating to trespass, remain: each individual owner makes his own decisions on land use and management... This position does not contradict the claims made by other Meriam people in any basic way, and it was around the continuity of basic principles rather than outward signs that the plaintiffs had built their argument.'
Keywords: Depoma, Marwer, evidence, Mabo, Edward Koiki, Malo's laws, Meriam Mer, Murray Island Native Court, No Ordinary Judgement, Passi, Reverend Dave, plaintiffs, Sebeg, Sharp, Dr. Nonie, witnesses
Sharp, Nonie 1996, 'No Ordinary Judgement', Aboriginal Studies Press, pp 72-74.
Author: Kenna, Jonathan