Queensland's Expert Witnesses
Queensland main witness was Mr PJ Killoran who claimed expertise as a result of his long career in Torres Strait Islander affairs. In April 1947 Mr Killoran had commenced work on Thursday Island as an organiser of Office of the Protector of Islanders' bank services. In early 1949 he progressed to deputy Protector and then in 1964 moved to Brisbane as Director of the Sub-Department of Native Affairs, a position which he held until his retirement in 1985. Essentially, Mr Killoran's evidence attempted to establish that external influences had wrought fundamental changes to the Meriam way of life. The plaintiffs challenged the expertise of Mr Killoran, whose perspective was at odds with the evidence of the anthropologist Dr Jeremy Beckett who had given evidence on behalf of the plaintiffs regarding the "essential continuity" of the Meriam land tenure system. In his findings, Justice Moynihan commented that 'Doctor Beckett's ... work... may be accepted, for the moment if not totally, as showing that Murray Island society is resilient and adaptive to change.'
Queensland also called evidence from Mrs Margaret Lawrie, a teacher who developed a strong interest in Meriam religious beliefs and recorded its mythological underpinnings in her book 'Myths and Legends of the Torres Strait'. Perhaps to the consternation of Queensland, Mrs Lawrie expressed support for Dr Beckett's perspective regarding the continuity of the Meriam
system of land tenure and inheritance.
Other expert witnesses to give evidence on behalf of Queensland were archivist Dr Ruth Kerr, historian Mr Colin Sheehan, and former Registrar of the Lands Department, Mr Donald Wormer. Queensland also called RAAF historical officer Robert Piper to give evidence that there was no record of a battle around Murray Island during the second World War, as had been claimed by Eddie Mabo.
Keywords: anthropology, Killoran, Patrick, Mabo, Edward Koiki, Queensland Government, witnesses
Author: Kenna, Jonathan