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Tuesday, 27 November 2018
Page: 11604


Mr MORRISON (CookPrime Minister) (14:01): Mr Speaker, on indulgence, I rise to acknowledge the passing yesterday of Bonita Mabo AO. Bonita Mabo was a remarkable woman who possessed a deep, quiet strength. The wife of Eddie Mabo for 32 years, whose long fight for Indigenous land rights made him part of our national pantheon, Bonita was once described as the silent woman behind the man. But while she was reserved, she was much, much more than a supportive spouse. Bonita was a leader in her on right and in her own way, and we honour that today as we mark her passing.

For many years Bonita worked in the background. As Eddie attracted the headlines, continuing what Bonita called his fight, she held the family together and raised the couple's 10 children—an extraordinary achievement. Bonita's children often said, 'Mum, I don't know how you did it.' She'd reply, 'I don't even know myself.' But she instilled in them what she knew, a lesson to us all: love, honesty, generosity and humility. Bonita had the instincts of a teacher, and it was during those years that she cofounded the first Aboriginal community school because she was unhappy with the education her children were receiving. Eddie saw his wife's talents and more than once encouraged her to study, but fear would always take hold, and Bonita thought she would be laughed away. Fortunately, those fears lessened as the years passed.

Eddie's death in 1992, while devastating for Bonita and her family, was a turning point. That was when her quiet strength truly emerged. Bonita was determined to fight her own battles. As an Australian South Sea Islander woman, she spent decades seeking greater understanding of the history of her people, of the suffering and pain inflicted on them. She would travel, she would talk and she would listen, and people listened to her, captivated by the strength of her character and the depths of her integrity. Eddie was a constant presence for her, even after his death. As Bonita said back in 2004:

Any time I go for conferences or anything like that he [Eddie] seems to show up. When I went down to Adelaide he was dancing—all hours of the morning it was. While he was dancing he just looked at me and had the biggest smile. He gives me strength to do the things I do.

Bonita was a firm believer in smiling. 'A smile goes a long way,' she would say. It helped her to persuade, to reassure and to calm. It helped her to move the interests of her people forward whilst also advocating passionately for Indigenous schooling and the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

In this building we know a lot about leaders. Every leader is different, and so was Bonita—different from the all the others and different from her husband, Eddie. Bonita was often quiet, sometimes unassuming, but no less effective and no less powerful. Her strength was quiet, drawn from her history, her family and her deep sense of justice. Bonita's wisdom and her generous, open heart will be missed, especially by her family. As someone who's grown up in a family where, fortunately, my parents have been together all of their lives, and to also be blessed to be in such a marriage myself, I know how much it must grieve the family to lose both of their parents now. They saw so much love, so much connection, so much inspiration from their partnership over so many years, and saw that carry on even after their father passed away and the achievements we've seen. Bonita's warm and generous and open heart will be missed; her legacy, however, will endure. Like her husband, Eddie, Bonita will always be part of the story and the heart of her land, of our land. To her beloved family, I offer the heartfelt sympathy of this parliament and our nation.

Honourable members: Hear, hear!