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Meriam Land Disputes
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Jon Faine:
Isn't the issue in this case, that the indigenous people, whose laws go back for 40,000 years, are saying why should our law be ignored or overlooked, and your law of 200 years be taken instead?

Once the lands became British not only did the British Crown, subsequently the Australian colonies, acquire sovereignty - that is the power to govern - but as part and parcel of the same deal, all the pre-existing rights under pre-existing legal system simply got snuffed out. What the plaintiffs are arguing is that we should recognise legal pluralism. That is that the pre-existing culture, the pre-existing law, should be recognised and that they can be accommodated in the Australian legal system.

Eddie Mabo claims that he's the traditional heir to many blocks of land on Mer Island, which is the main island in the Murray group,

His claim is disputed by some, one of whom gave evidence at this week's hearings.

Marwer Depoma told the court he's lived on his land for 70 years, and Mabo has no right to lake it away from him,

Land disputes on the island have a long history, and are recorded in the island court records which date back to the start of this century...

He can go and claim another family's land. Not here, this place. Not my uncle's place.

No claim for this land here, or in the bush too, garden place. Only one garden land there - at Aum. A U M. His grand momma share.

The Queensland barristers were quick to seize on these land disputes. Five of their nine witnesses were called specifically to challenge Eddie's claims to particular blocks of land.

Queensland Council:
These people in here are taking too long, Mr Dipoma, too long.

Eddie Mabo:
There are Murray Islanders appearing for the Queensland Government but of course they are not saying that the land belongs to Queensland, they are saying that they are the owners of their plots of land.

Disputes about inheritance and property are inevitable on Mer. A tiny island where people feel an intense connection with land and sea, and jealously preserve their boundaries.

In 1898, Queensland established an official court of justice on Murray. The island court dealt with both criminal and civil matters, and often heard cases in which neighbours disputed land boundaries, or families argued inheritance.

Islanders claim that this court's decisions were guided by Meriam custom and the laws of Malo.

Records of past court hearings are being used in evidence by the plaintiffs' council to prove that customary land law survived beyond the island's annexation to Queensland.

Greg Mclntyre:
I'll read you one, Napoleon v Tybe in 1930, land dispute. Napoleon claimant said that he not receive his rightful share of land from his father and mother. "I claim the following blocks as my portion Garom Sabed etc, etc" And it's signed off George Agnew, Superintendent.

It appears to us that Murray islanders are probably among some of the most litigious peoples in the world for the quantity of people and the pieces of land that we're dealing with. And they provide a framework of all the rules by which they governed their land ownership. And its quite unique in Australia, at least to our knowledge for an indigenous people to have... to have such intricate rules and also to record them in writing.
Indigenous People & Their Land
custom, indigenous people, land ownership, land rights, land use, sacred
Indigenous Customary Law
indigenous people, Mabo judgement, native title
The Murray Islanders' Evidence
evidence, Mabo, Edward Koiki, Murray Island, plaintiffs, witnesses
Queensland Witnesses
evidence, Mabo Case, Murray Island, witnesses
Common Law Rules For New English Territories
Britain, Britain, British law, Common Law, conquest, International law
Defending Territories & Making Peace
Depoma, Marwer, land boundaries, land disputes, land ownership, Las, Mabo Case, Mer, Meriam culture, Papua New Guinea
assimilation, Mer, Murray Island, Murray Island Council, Murray Island Native Court, Queensland, school
Land Disputes
clans, Depoma, Marwer, inheritance, land disputes, land ownership, Mabo, Edward Koiki, Murray Island Native Court
Murray Island Council
annexation, Murray Island Council, Murray Island Native Court, Queensland
Reception Of English Law
colonisation, Common Law, International law
Sovereignty & Ownership Distinguished
land ownership, Mabo judgement, native title, sovereignty
The Status Of Australian Colonies
crown land, land ownership, sovereignty, terra nullius