22 09 21_Mabo Lecture

*Speakers: Marie-Louise Ayres (M), Terri Janke (T)

*Audience: (A)


*Date: 21/9/22

M:        Good evening, everyone and a very warm welcome to the National Library of Australia and to the inaugural Mabo Lecture. I'm Marie-Louise Ayres, Director General of the National Library.

Thank you for attending this event either in person or online coming to you from the National Library building on beautiful Ngunawal and Ngambri country where we are privileged to do our work on behalf of the nation.

As we begin I’d like to acknowledge Australia’s first nations peoples, the first Australians as the traditional owners and custodians of this land and give my respects to their elders past and present and through them to all Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I particularly acknowledge their long custodianship of country, culture, language and knowledge on their many lands.

We at the Library recognise this custodianship because it’s a cousin to our role, to steward Australia’s vibrant, diverse and dynamic cultures as they are represented in our collections and to pass these collections down safely to future generations. Our collections are rich in the documentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, collected and created by indigenous and nonindigenous people alike. These collections have the power to tell truths, to feel griefs, to grow, to heal and to wound. They are understood and interpreted differently by individuals, by communities, by the Library community and over time.

As a library community we’re committed to respectful engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and to meaningful reconciliation. We understand that we have so much to learn about the richness and diversity of first nations cultures and about our responsibilities in relation to first nations knowledges here in our collections. We’re in the midst of a deep process of rethinking what we think we know about our collections and our services, how we work and to reflect on the ways in which our words, actions and work practices must change as part of our reconciliation journey.

Within our collection is a very precious personal archive of Uncle Edward Koiki Mabo, documenting the work of a man committed to the benefit of his community. Uncle Eddie’s papers have been rightly inscribed in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. The Library takes seriously its custodianship of this archive entrusted to us by Auntie Bonita and with that relationship continuing today. Tonight we’re privileged to have Uncle’s daughter, Gail, with us and I acknowledge Gail’s work in developing the Mabo showcase in our Treasures Gallery and I would encourage you just to go and sit and contemplate and spend some time in that space. So Gail, thank you for being with us and for just so generously sharing the legacy of your family.

I’d also like to acknowledge the presence of Glen Schwinghammer who worked with Mrs Mabo many years ago as she entrusted us with her husband’s and family’s very special personal papers.

Tonight we commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Mabo decision, the culmination of his work, by presenting the first of the National Library’s annual Mabo Lectures and I welcome Dr Terri Janke to give the inaugural NLA Mabo Lecture. Dr Janke is a Wuthathi/Meriam woman and an international authority on Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property or ICIP. She’s the founder and Solicitor General of her law firm, Terri Janke and Company.

Terri’s known for creating new pathways and collaborations between nonindigenous and indigenous people and for leading work in empowering indigenous people in arts and business. Terri has developed a well renowned ICIP protocol know as the True Tracks Framework, a foundational tool and one that we are using here at the Library for recognising and valuing indigenous people for their knowledge and culture and I know that you will enjoy hearing from Terri tonight. Terri, thank you.


T:         Thank you, Marie-Louise. [Speaks in language], good evening, everybody. I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this country, the Ngunnawal and the Ngambri people and pay my respects to elders past, present and also I’d like to acknowledge country itself for its beauty and nurturing quality that it gives us every day as we live on it.

Gail Mabo, thank you for inviting me and choosing me to present the inaugural National Library of Australia Mabo Lecture. I was a bit taken aback when you first asked me but thank you for that opportunity. To Marie-Louise, the Director of the National Library and Rebecca Bateman and Jeremy Abram who helped me prepare for today by making sure I had my notes, thank you very much, to all the Torres Strait Islanders here, Sam Faulkner, Jenny Pilot and to all of those in the community here, I’d like to acknowledge the Torres Strait Islanders in the audience and to my brother, JP, as well and other first nations people here and online who’ve come to commemorate the 30 year anniversary of the Mabo case.

It’s an honour to present this lecture because my gr and mothers were born on the Torres Strait, one a Meriam woman and the other from Gebar Island. So tonight with great pride I will pay a tribute to Eddie Koiki Mabo, I will discuss his legacy and reflect on what it means for the recognition of indigenous peoples and caring for country. I will do this by commenting on the findings of the 2021 State of the Environment report that was released this year and which I was the co-chief author of.

Eddie Koiki Mabo or Edward Koiki Mabo was an honourable man. He was an artist, a writer and a visionary thinker. He was a fighter and a warrior for indigenous rights to country. He knew his heritage, he lived according to Malo law and Meriam custom, keeping his strong cultural identity throughout his life even when he lived on the Australian mainland.

He loved his wife, Bonita, and his children, he loved his people. Eddie Mabo founded and directed a community school for indigenous kids in Townsville, setting it up that his children would know their cultural identity and their language and cultural practices of Mer.

When he worked as a gardener at James Cook University he was told by academics that his people did not own the land of Mer, Murray Island. Mabo was shocked by this and this led him to take legal action which led to the case that overturned Terra Nullius. He and his fellow Mer Islanders, Reverend David Passey, Celuia Mabo Sale, Sam Passey and James Rice took their claim to the High Court of Australia to recognise their ownership of their lands on Mer Island.

Sadly Eddie passed away before the judgement was handed down on the 3rd of June 1992 but that judgment was perhaps one of the biggest legal cases of Australian history. To me it shows that a man’s love of country inspired him to act and act he did, he wrote and challenged and advocated for his people’s rights but his legacy continues with us all and within these walls. The National Library holds the Mabo collection, the original writings and works of Eddie Mabo and some of it is on display, selected by his daughter, Gail Mabo. I encourage you to have a look at that exhibition and some of the images are being displayed right now.

But we must really be grateful for the Mabo family for depositing Eddie Mabo’s diaries, photographs, notes, the maps he drew of the land ownership and kinship on Mer and his love letters to his wife, Bonita. This collection is amazing and it is listed on the UNESCO Memory of the World International Register quite rightly and it allows us to understand the heart of this remarkable man and the case that bears his name.

Eddie Mabo began his fight for country 10 years before the judgment date. He began the fight to recognise first nations’ continuing connection to country. He began the fight for acknowledgment that the land and seas belong to traditional owners. Eddie’s legacy is evidenced in the way that he influenced others to the areas of life including law, the arts and science and in caring for country. His star, called Koiki, shines brightly. His story is taught in schools, universities and I'm always moved when I hear children talking about their school projects on Eddie Mabo, it’s amazing. They too are inspired by his determination and I’m also greatly influenced by Eddie Mabo personally.

In 1992 I was a struggling law school dropout. I was unable to find my pathway in law. When the Mabo case came on and it was splashing on all the headlines I learned how – well before then I’d thought that the law – the legal system had been so oppressive for indigenous people. I’d squirm in my seat when I was studying property law and reading those really big textbooks with cases that justified the theft of Australia. So when the Mabo case came and on the headlines it was splashed Native Title Mabo Case Overturns Terra Nullius I was really heartened.

The case overturned terra nullius. The case delivered native title rights. It’s the recognition that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have rights and interests to land and waters that continue despite colonisation and that they have those rights according to traditional laws and customs. These rights include the rights to camp, hunt, hold meetings, use water, perform ceremonies, protect cultural rights and today native title rights are recognised in about 32% of the country so we’ve come a long way. Thank you, Eddie Mabo.

But these rights are not automatic. The process to claim native title rights, as it’s been interpreted through the legislation and the processes following the case, that first nations people are required to prove that their connections to land and seas continue in accordance with those laws and customs despite the years of colonisation’s disruptions. That has resulted in native title delivering results for some but not others. So the issue of sovereignty and greater recognition of indigenous rights continues today.

There are treaty discussions being undertaken formally in three states, Northern Territory, Queensland and Victoria. The Victorian Government’s Yoorrook Commission on Truth Telling’s Charter is to uncover the truths that our museums and history books have left out for more than 230 years. The Uluru Statement of the Heart calls for an indigenous voice in the way the decisions are made by the Parliament. Whilst there has been some debate about whether this should come first before treaty and truth telling there is commitment by government to implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Last month Torres Strait Islanders released a Masig Statement in support that indigenous – in support of the indigenous voice to the Parliament and changes to the constitution. So these rights are still very relevant today. Still a lot of action occurring.

But back in 1992 I was a young woman as I said, dropped out of law school and the case opened up my eyes that it could be something proactive, that the law could be a spear and a shield and I went back to law school. I finished my degree and I focused my career on indigenous cultural and intellectual property so I have a personal journey owed to Eddie Koiki Mabo there in really sort of instilling that I guess belief that the law could deliver outcomes for indigenous people.

But for all of us there is a great legacy that Mabo leaves with us and that legacy is love for country. It is this love of country, Mabo’s legacy, that I want to focus on tonight and I want to talk about the importance of caring for country and the findings of the State of the Environment.

I was a co-chief author of the report along with Professor Emma Johnston and Dr Ian Creswell. The State of the Environment report is an independent report that is required to be written every five years since 1995. There were 37 authors that presented the evidence to provide an overview of the state of environment in Australia, tracked and analysed the state pressures, management and impact and it was the first time that indigenous voices were included in the report, not just me but nine dedicated and hardworking indigenous authors. Professor Stephen van Leeuwen who wrote biodiversity, Barry Hunter who cowrote land, Brad Moggridge, inland water, Damien Morgan Bulled and Sonja Cooper, climate change, Zena Cumston who wrote indigenous heritage and urban themes, Dr Cass Hunter and Libby Fisher, coast and marine chapters, Oliver Costello who wrote the extreme events and Joe Morrison who did the indigenous scoping report.

The 2021 State of the Environment report is also filled with the words of many indigenous community members who took part in consultation sessions and provided case studies. These first nations voices speak up for country and their belief that changing the way people and governments deal with approaches to environmental management, if we are to change them we can make a difference. I’m very proud of what the authors of the State of the Environment achieved, all of the authors, indigenous and nonindigenous. It was a long journey, many hours spent writing and having meetings and editing and rewriting and listening and trying to capture what we could in the small amount of space, 100 pages, and in that time, two-and-a-half years.

Some of us were scientists, others had lived experiences as leaders and indigenous community members, others were writers and researchers. I was a lawyer and as an expert on indigenous cultural and intellectual property worked with the team to really build indigenous knowledge in the report. When we started we developed a set of collaboration guidelines and one of the key principles was that the authors would recognise indigenous knowledge. It is oral and performance-based and it’s constantly evolving and it stems from thousands of years of practice.

This knowledge may not be the same as western science but when a principle of western science is to be included authors should look to complement the principle from an indigenous perspective and it is knowledge that the perspectives may concur or differ but we will respect the diversity of views. This principle and other good faith and collaboration principles enabled us as a team to tell a more complete story of our environment that had really never been told before in those reports.

The general outlook for the environment is deteriorating due to cumulative impacts of climate change, habitat loss, invasive species, pollution and resource extraction. Telling this story was not easy and the dedication, passion and tenacity of the authors tells us though that it is not too late. The report should be a loud wakeup call for all Australians. The environment is in need of urgent action. The climate is changing rapidly, land is being developed and exploited unsustainably, resources are not replenished fast enough. The environment can’t keep up with human and industry activities, country is under pressure.

Since national records began the temperature has warmed by 1.4 degrees on land and 1.1 degrees in the oceans. Just as the temperatures on land are rising the water temperatures are also increasing and the frequency of marine heatwaves is increasing. The Great Barrier Reef has suffered marine heatwaves over the last five years and responded with mass bleaching and the death of coral with potential for consequences on the reef’s biodiversity and ecology. Marine heatwaves have led to the loss of biodiversity and major habitat types and seagrasses, mangroves, algae and kelp forests. This is just a snapshot of the many ecosystems, habitats and environments that are impacted and affected and at risk from climate change. Rising temperatures will see more species on the move, changes in growth patterns, reproduction rates and mass mortality events.

For indigenous peoples changes to the environment can be profound. Changes in country have altered and disrupted indigenous people’s connection to land, seas, plants and animals. For example traditional shell-making necklaces is one of the oldest cultural practices in Tasmania and the [unclear] 20:15 women still hand this tradition down from generation to generation. They have maintained a strong cultural knowledge of areas to collect shells. They hold knowledge about the sea, the level of the tides and providing conditions to gather the shells in the shallow water.

In the past 20 years the changes to kelp and sea forests have really changed those practices, the shells being swept away, making the practice harder. The rising temperatures have affected the spawning and survival of the shells and the shells are becoming harder to find.

Climate change is affecting the frequency of extreme weather events like flooding rains, tropical cyclones and bushfires and we are witnessing these consequences. Of course the 2019 and 2020 bushfires are among the most notable and devastating in Australia’s recent history. We saw unprecedented suffering during these fires known as the black summer and it was the worst fire season on the record. Over 18 million hectares of forest was burnt and mass destruction of habitat which it’s estimated that over one to three billion animals were killed or displaced. That’s just starting.

But it’s not too late. The report is not all doom and gloom. There is hope that we can turn things around and if we are to do this together we must care for country and it is a universal law of indigenous cultures that if you look after country, country will look after you. Caring for country, land, sea and sky was highlighted in the State of the Environment report. For first nations people the relationship to the environment is symbiotic, a relationship that’s reflected in the word country. Country embodies the values, the stories, resources, the laws, the responsibilities, the ancestral heritage, all related to a place. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people country is land, sea and sky, it is the water, the animals, the plants and the knowledge to live on it and care for it and it’s the relationship that exists between the land, the oceans, the law, the customs and the knowledge. This is indigenous people’s heritage. It is our culture, it is our language, our ancestry, our spirit. Country is cared for like a family member because country is our family.

For Torres Strait Islanders island custom is used, referring to cultural obligations to care for place like the phrase caring for country. In caring for country Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people draw on the laws, knowledge and customs that they’ve inherited from their ancestors and they nurture it as they innovate to new situations. As caretakers it is their duty to ensure that the land and the seas and the things on them are healthy because caring for country is this reciprocal relationship. If the animals, the fish and the plants are sick people will become unwell too.

So another first for the State of the Environment, it was the first time the report included reporting on health and wellbeing and obviously poor air quality, low water quality and smoke from fires have a physical impact. But there is also impact on our standard on living and our emotional toll. There are high health and wellbeing implications for indigenous people, not just loss of land with rising seas but the loss of access and the ability to care for country has an emotional toll. When indigenous people are on country it has been found that there is increase to their health and wellbeing and country also benefits from that.

A good story coming out of the State of the Environment report was the work of indigenous rangers and the efforts of indigenous rangers to deliver environmental, cultural, social and economic outcomes that benefit all Australians. From monitoring and evaluating changes to the landscape to sharing traditional knowledge, recording country using drone technology or walking country or eradicating invasive species like Buffel grass or feral cats, indigenous rangers are really doing well for the environment.

Indigenous and western biodiversity management processes have come together in relative recent times because of these indigenous ranger programs and it’s been something that I feel has been a good outcome. The 10 Deserts project involves 60 desert indigenous ranger groups and the ownership over the priorities for managing the desert is important to those desert rangers. Alliances like the Indigenous Desert Alliance support the work of indigenous rangers and caring for country and ensure that these outcomes are delivering regional benefits and that there is collaboration from the ground up. Of course but there - well there should be more, the need for calling out for more resources for indigenous ranger projects.

Indigenous knowledge is important for the environment. Since time immemorial Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have lived on country and they developed knowledge of the natural world in the ebbs and flows of the seasons. ‘Though there’s a long – it’s ancient knowledge, it’s constantly being nurtured and handed down - it is that relationship to place and lived experience that indigenous people have derived knowledge systems that interact with the environment and their land management practices such as listening to country, using traditional burning methods, fish traps, sewing and storing plants in the rainforest, using plants as medicines. Just being able to create a system that is sustainable where you can supply food and shelter to communities over countless generations is why indigenous cultures are the oldest living cultures in the world.

Indigenous land management practices reflect this holistic relationship with traditional owners and country and they’ve been tested and adapted. There is much that we can take, for instance cultural burning is now being revived and Aboriginal people, elders are working on fire cultural management like Tagalaka man, Victor Steffensen, and the Firesticks Alliances. This is really important work and it needs to be taken up more widely to manage our Australian landscapes. Indigenous fire management was part of a wider range of cultural practices called cultural burning and it’s used – still I mean it’s being revived today to protect cultural sites, to clear access to paths and in some remote parts of Australia it’s used to mitigate potential fire risks. It’s carried out using those traditional knowledge practices.

It should be more as I said but there’s a lot of red tape that prevents this from happening. I do believe that the black summer fires could be prevented. Catastrophic events like that could be [happened] 28:31 if we used traditional fire management practices. Our environmental law regulations really impede that and it needs to be changed.

In central Victoria we’re seeing the Dja Dja Wurrung clans collaborating with Forest Fire Management Victoria to manage landscapes and up until that point had been 170 years since the Dja Dja Wurrung country had a traditional burn and more burnings are planned for the future and hopefully there’ll be a wider cultural shift now to integrate traditional knowledge for management of the Australian landscape. It’s all allowed through traditional owners and that practice of caring for country.

But also the State of the Environment report did include information on the impact of colonisation and – not colonisation as it occurred in the past but continuing colonisation. Colonisation continues as the laws of the country are inhibiting indigenous people to be able to practise their stewardship.

In the reports the assessment for governance rights and access to country for indigenous people scored a very high impact and the overall trend of deteriorating. Changes in native title, land rights, indigenous protected areas and co-management are positive however overall environmental management and governance arrangements do not adequately incorporate indigenous knowledge, practices, culture and rights and do not ensure equitable access to natural resources and indigenous people continue to be impacted by poor access to water, constraints around cultural food collection and burning practices and inadequate protection of indigenous cultural and intellectual property.

There are shortfalls in heritage protection. We all watched in disbelief and heartache as our cultural heritage laws failed to stop the aggressive destruction, Juukan Gorge rock shelters, a sacred site, a place of magnificent, full of song lines, story and ancestral power. The Minister for the Environment has now announced that there will be changes to heritage laws and it will take some co-ordination between state and Commonwealth laws to deliver on this. The Commonwealth law is currently a last resort-style legislation but that’s the problem, really. The consent to destroy state base approach of cultural heritage laws, Aboriginal cultural heritage laws is failing us.

Our heritage is older than the pyramids. It’s just as captivating as Angkor Wat and it’s really significant. So why don’t we as a nation value it? But then I really think some of us do. I did hear many nonindigenous people raise their complaints and cry out over the blast that blew away the heritage, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura peoples and there was also the response from investors and people who had superannuation funds that have shares in these companies and they called for better management of the resource sector. I think that’s really important where we see where governments fail to act people must stand up as well.

In 2020 a very important document, Dhawura Ngilan, set best practice standards for managing our indigenous heritage. Dhawura Ngilan was adopted by the Heritage Chairs of Australia and New Zealand and its aim is to influence indigenous heritage manage – and I do believe it will as the first peoples – as custodians of heritage look to have their heritage acknowledged for its global significance. The First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance is a group representing indigenous heritage organisations – well indigenous organisations that own and manage cultural heritage and they are working with government to co-design that legislation.

So too are they working with the power of the business and investor sector. The Dhawura Ngilan Business and Investor Initiative is led by the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance in partnership with the Global Compact Network of Australia and Responsible Investment Association of Australasia. This initiative will see that it’s the responsibility of all Australians to include heritage in front of mind when they’re making decisions and that will be in the business and finance sector. The aim is to provide a guide for companies and investors to understand what the best standards are to protect cultural heritage, that it’s a proactive opportunity to do that, not a reactive one.

Up until 1788 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people owned all the land and seas of Australia. I still think we do own all the land and seas of Australia but I mean legally the sovereignty issue has remained with us and that relationship, that prior relationship is not recognised by the colonised. Each decade there’s been calls for indigenous people to do that. We’ve seen different methods of recognising indigenous land ownership. It was in 1966 when the South Australian Government first passed legislation which recognised land rights for Aboriginal people in South Australia. Today we have a complex web of laws and agreements that relate to indigenous people and their land. Native title is just one of them. There’s heritage laws, land rights, water laws, intellectual property laws, it goes on. But since the late 1970s traditional owners and the Australian governments have been edging closer to more collaborative approaches, co-management of national parks.

The Indigenous Protected Areas program was introduced in the 1990s and I think it’s had great impact. There are about 81 indigenous protected areas and it’s growing. This program encourages indigenous traditional owners to be the long-term caretakers of land and sea country and the IPAs are an opportunity for indigenous people to govern areas of country but it really needs to be supported by there being resources that enable indigenous people to undertake that work as it gets more and more complex and more and more decision-making needs to be included. I think for much of the co-management that is occurring the efforts between traditional owners and government has been beneficial but there are examples where this arrangement weighs in favour of the nonindigenous governance body. In managing these spaces we need to ensure that there is true co-management.

The Native Title Act, it has delivered rights to those indigenous groups that have been able to make successful claims in the courts or within agreements with proponents and governments but they still have little access once they get – sorry, they need more resources and support to be able to deal with the complexities of all the agreement making that needs to go on when they are managing their country. Until then there’s going to be greater action in the courts and we’re seeing that now.

Following Mabo’s action of taking judicial steps earlier this year there was a landmark movement for environmental activism in Australia where the Queensland Land Court have agreed to listen to first nations peoples talk about how climate change will impact the wellbeing of first nations cultures in terms of their health and wellbeing. Representatives of the court will travel to indigenous country to hear them talk about how they’ve been impacted by the new coal mine there and the mines will impact their culture, it’ll impact their land, the water systems and it will advance the warming of the climate.

The case is led by Youth Verdict, the group of young people from Queensland who are fighting for human rights and climate justice and it’s very significant because the way that evidence now is going to be led and to - enabling for indigenous people to argue their case culturally – in a culturally safe way where their voices will be heard out of those colonial institutions but rather on country will involve listening to traditional knowledge about these harmful impacts.

The Pabai Pabai case commenced in 2019 by a group of eight Torres Strait Islanders against the Australian Government for failure to act on climate change, is a breach of their human rights and so this is the first human rights case. It brings to focus the loss of cultural practice as a result of environmental degradation. The group claim that the Commonwealth Government has breached its duty of care in failing to take steps to protect the environment and to failing them to support their traditional way of life and their land and seas from the impact of climate change.

Kabi [Tami] 39:21 is one of those eight Torres Strait Islanders and he spoke at a global summit in New York about his fears that the islands could become [inhabitable] 39:33 in his lifetime. Can you imagine that? Homelands like Murray Island and Mer underwater. The islands which he and his people are connected to and the cultural traditions and practices would disappear. He says if our connection to these lands disappear our indigenous culture disappears, the rising seas are threatening our homes, washing away sacred cultural sites and drowning burial sites. Reef and marine life are being damaged by rising sea temperatures and bleaching is occurring in devastating amounts. He spoke about freshwater wells being contaminated and with plants and crops being damaged by swampy waters. Kabi [Tami] spoke of Australia’s difficult history of colonisation now continuing by the means of climate change.

A more proactive stance than court action is legal empowerment through collaboration, listening and taking action. Indigenous voices need to be listened to in governing the environment. Governing means holding the power whereas management means exercising the practice to reach objectives. Whilst indigenous people having been involved in management there are shortfalls in their roles in governing and this needs to increase. There are indigenous people on advisory boards. They’re consulted but we need to get them in key decision-making roles and this needs to happen with consistency, across all states and territories and the Commonwealth level and there must be changes to the law for that as well.

There is a need for changes for the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and the Act includes objectives already to recognise and advance the role of indigenous people in protecting the environment but as was found in the Samuels review that is not being supported.

The Act really doesn’t include any specifics regarding the standards of practice for including indigenous people in the implementation of the Act and there are over 500 indigenous groups that are caring for country and they have to deal with the different laws and they all have different needs and different protocols and different aspirations but they’re dealing with this myriad of laws and the complexities are just making it really difficult. It can be simplified and there must be much more work to mirror key legislations and policy towards the aspirations of traditional owners in managing their land and sea country.

Other ways of enabling indigenous people to practise caring for culture is including them in carbon markets and the development towards national biodiversity market. The indigenous carbon industry network is the peak industry body representing 23 indigenous organisations that operate across Australia to develop and deliver carbon projects throughout the Emissions Reductions Fund mainly through savannah fire management but also included in any carbon method.

The Indigenous Member Organisation support hundreds of indigenous people caring for country and over the past 15 years the member organisations of that group have successfully led and established indigenous-owned industry that abates about 1.2 million tonnes of emissions every year, producing Australian carbon credit units valued at around $53m a year so more of this should happen. Groups like ICIN should be involved in discussions to create a national biodiversity market that can potentially give economic value to good land and sea management practices. We need a voice, we need time to consider it, we need a seat at the table.

The SOE report also reflected on the lack of recognition of indigenous knowledge rights or indigenous cultural and intellectual property rights and many of you know that’s an area of law that I’ve specialised my career and focused my career on but I guess the main point to take away from this is article 31 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Indigenous people have the rights to own, maintain and control their cultural practices, their traditional knowledge, their traditional cultural expression and their cultural heritage. So respecting knowledge is about seeking free prior informed consent and the standards are – for that are mutual benefits. There must be better engagement.

The True Tracks 10 Principles Frameworks that I developed 22 years ago or through my work over 22 years, really, is a framework that can deal with the gaps in the law and deliver better engagement. So when we talk about incorporating and using indigenous knowledge it has to be with indigenous people. In caretaking the environment we need to ensure equal recognition of two knowledge systems, the western science and the indigenous science. The Our Knowledge Our Way guidelines have set best practice for indigenous-led projects and we see examples like seasonal calendars coming into play right now and rather than the four seasons that were imported from Europe there are places where it’s recognising that country has six seasons.

The [Meriam Arabartonar] 45:27 seasonal calendar is one such example. It was developed by Meriam traditional custodians with the Torres Strait Islander Regional Authority, and the seasonal calendar poster highlights how Meriam traditional people coexisted with land and sea. Falen D Passi of Mer Gedkem Le and Vic McGrath from the Torres Strait Regional Authority provided a case study in the SOE report and they really point to the fact that the turning of seasons and cycle of changes in animals, plants, the four winds, breakers on the coral reef, clouds, constellation, moon and tides influence when to plant, when to hunt, when to travel and when to hold ceremonies. The importance of this Meriam traditional knowledge lies at the heart of their community’s aspirations to preserve cultural heritage and Meriam Mir language.

So moving forward I put to you that there is a lot that we can do to heal country if we are to work together.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people need more of a larger role in managing their land and seas through their cultural practices because the colonial systems are failing us. There is a need for indigenous people to be practising self-determination. This means sharing power in policy, law, planning, performance, delivery and review. There is a growing realisation that we need to recognise indigenous land management practices and use them alongside western scientific methods through collaboration and co-design but indigenous people should be included at this higher level. Their knowledge should be valued and they are valued partners for land and sea and water management.

Their traditional knowledge should be given proper engagement by governments who should recognise their autonomy to care for country and support them to carry out community-led approaches and work with them and give them the resources and enable them to do so. It is through this self-determination that we can have effective stewardship of country. Self-determination reaffirms indigenous connection to country and it empowers and celebrates this relationship and at the same time it offers a solution, maybe not the whole solution but there are tools and if we respect and share indigenous knowledge practices I believe that we can get there.

So in conclusion let’s go back to that honourable man, Edward Koiki Mabo. I acknowledge his vision and his leadership. Thirty years on Mabo stood for country. His message I think was clear, we are not separate from our environment. We are country. We must honour country, we must honour each other and we must value culture and knowledge. We must care for country, it is the law, it is all our responsibility. Over 30 years after the Mabo case these things are important for all Australians. We will walk together in this beautiful country for the next 30 years and for the next 300 years but in the next 30 years I believe the biggest issue that we face as a nation is the environment. Against this backdrop where we have environmental degradation after many years of mismanagement and denial of indigenous cultural practices our country is hurting but it’s not too late.

Mabo’s legacy is clear and it is a message for your nation. I think about what is best for our country. Do we love and care for this country? It’s time for us to listen. Indigenous and nonindigenous people but we must also listen to country. We must listen, look, connect and feel country. We will walk together, my family and your family. We must all be honourable ancestors like Eddie Mabo and we must love and care for our country because it is our kin. [Speaks in language] protect our land. [Speaks in language] the strength of our culture keeps our land strong. Thank you.


M:        I just have to take a moment to kind of recover a little bit from that, Terri, so thank you for a wonderful lecture. I think many of us will be having some quite powerful thoughts about what it might mean to be an honourable ancestor both in relation to the lands we live in but actually the work that we do. For my Library colleagues here I think that’s what we aspire to be, honourable ancestors kind of making sure that we’re looking after what’s here because it’s connected to country as well. So thank you for that, opening up both the challenge that we have ahead of us, the way that we can think about it differently, the way that if we don’t kind of connect up the kinship between country, culture and environment we’re doomed to failure. We’ve had lots of failure in the last kind of couple of hundred years, haven’t we? I guess to the generosity of the spirit of inviting everybody’s family to kind of walk together for the next 300 years so I’d like to say a huge thanks to Terri.

We do have some time for questions and as you know those who are frequent visitors, frequent flyers with us, we are livestreaming so if you would just wait for a microphone to come to you so that people can actually hear your question, that would be great. So I can see the microphones up there so – and I’m just going to kind of pick you out when you’re ready to ask a question so – and don’t be shy. Ooh hang on, you put your hand up to scratch your head there, that was nearly a question. Okay, actually I can see better now so do we have some questions or anything that you’d like to ask Terri about how she sees this playing out over the next few years in particular? Okay, that’s the role of a good brother although is it going to be a question that’s going to be hard to answer?

T:         There’s also one up the back.

M:        Can you just – JP, if you just – okay we’ll take the one at the back but – okay, we’ll take the one here and can we have the other mic down here for JP? Thanks. Okay, up the back there.

A:        Thank you very much for that talk, it was fantastic. Question for the next State of the Environment report in five years, what is the key thing that you’d like to see the next group of authors take forward from this edition?

T:         I’d like to see the momentum from the last report continue so don’t wait until the last couple of years to do the reporting, would be my message and to build on what the experience was of the collaborating authors working together would be really good. But I also think that the evaluation and the monitoring needs to be enabled now and I think data will be a significant thing for that. I should also mention the importance of indigenous data sovereignty and all of that moving forward in this space but yeah, I’d really like to see more indigenous people included in there and yeah, just more writers and more case studies. But yeah, there are lessons from the existing one but I’d like to see the next one do better.

M:        Okay, JP’s allowed to have a question.

T:         I mean he can ring me any time.

A:        Thanks Terri, great to see you again, great talk. In your talk you mentioned I suppose the need to really place equal value on western culture and western cultural heritage in Australia as we do with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage. I suppose what role do you see education playing in that and the younger generations in appreciating maybe something previous generations of Australians didn’t appreciate in that if we’re taught a different way about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history in this country, we’re taught in ways where Aboriginal knowledge and practice and living on this land for – since time began is appreciated in western way? So we talk of them as the first scientists and the first bakers and the first explorers, astronomers and environmental practice. How do you see education maybe then bringing those up to the same level that indigenous knowledge and practice is the same as nonindigenous culture, heritage and practice? Say so when you’ve got the destruction of the Juukan caves that that is given the same weighting as destruction of something that’s 250 years old.

T:         Yes well it’s got to be taught in the schools, we need to have it on the curriculum, we need to have it valued by people in the same way that Aboriginal people do so that when people are making decisions when they go out into the world that they value it and they can see the ramifications of it and that it is about that long-term – the long-term view that indigenous people have when they’re caring for country. I really support that to happen and for indigenous people to work with curriculum developers to work in the school. I love that there is more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people writing books about this topic and books for kids, Deadly Science or things – television shows and things like that will really need to happen. But no, being on country and really understanding that it’s something that we can connect with our hearts and we only have this country and we have a – I really believe the next 30 years, very important so our children today really need to yeah be given the opportunity to learn about the value of knowledge.

A:        Thank you, Terri, for that lecture, that was very stimulating. Just a remark, it’s interesting to be here a couple of days after we laid to rest the head of the colonial government – or colonial power, I should say, and then at the same time we honour tonight a quiet and unassuming man who changed Australia for the better so just a comment.

Perhaps Terri from your experience in doing the State of the Environment report, a comment to your feelings on the perhaps actual willingness of the governments of the day to engage with this? Divide and conquer is an age-old strategy for all governments, I think. In terms of comments about valuing western heritage versus Aboriginal heritage I fully agree that we place too much emphasis on our western heritage, I think. We’re perfectly happy to pay tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars to build new monuments in Villers Bretonneux in France but in the last couple of weeks Minister Plibersek has declined to add additional protections to the Burrup Peninsula, the most wonderful and biggest rock art gallery in the world. Are they serious?

T:         Well you’d have to ask them that. My feeling on this and what was good to be given the opportunity to write this report is that it was an independent report and it was independent of government and we could put our views in there and the Environmental Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act allows that to be the case so that it is not up to the whims of the government of the day of how they might respond. But that said, the State of the Environment report reports on the state, it doesn’t really make recommendations or suggestions. It’s really just the way things are through using the terms of reference and the very scientific ways but that’s sort of moving.

I think that there have been some responses by Minister Plibersek in response to report that are very encouraging. I particularly am going to watch the Aboriginal heritage review stuff, the changes to the Environmental Biodiversity Protection Act. Things like that I think will be a good opportunity to change the way the decisions around the destruction of sites that you just mentioned are made. So how we can include indigenous people’s voices into that decision-making needs to be considered and that’s the challenge for the government and good to see that they’re codesigning it with first nations peoples’ organisations.

So I can only say that we must as people keep governments accountable, that's what our job is to do. We must call it in and call – and where do we stand on this ourselves? Because we as people have the power to do that, we have as people the power to do a lot of things that can change the way things are made. I mean I mentioned to you the results of those investors that were reacting to the way that their super fund funded – had invested in companies, were making decisions. We’re seeing that happen now and I’m confident by my children and younger generation who is really heightened about these issues, they’re very into it. They seem to be asking those questions. I put it on us and everyone to keep governments accountable in that way and do not let up. It's important that we really do that.

Male:   We have one question online.

M:        Oh we’ve got online questions?

Male:   Yeah, is that okay?

M:        Innovation. Okay, Jeremy, go ahead.

A:        Thank you so much. Given the recent romanticising of first nations’ knowledge of climate change what are the IP risks here? I know you touched on IPIC but interested in how we further truly honour this authentically and not in a gross exploitative way?

T:         How long have we got? No. Thank you for that question, that’s like right in my area of expertise but I probably don’t have enough time to go into too much detail but I think it is where people go into communities and just take away knowledge without recognising that indigenous people are the owners of those knowledge. They go away, the experts, and we get left with wondering what happened and still being the most sort of impacted group in all of Australian society and the emotional toll that that has on people. So it’s lack of recognition of that knowledge as being valuable as told – the mouth of an indigenous person but when it goes through an expert it’s suddenly got validity and they become the expert. So the knowledge of the old people needs to be recognised – it’s an oral culture or performance-based, people talking and handing it down. It’s not recognised in the same way that an expert from a university writes a report or a book and then they become the expert.

So we need to really validate that and – because over the many years of that happening there’s been a lot of distrust so Aboriginal communities are very wary about doing research or working with people coming into country. What are they going to take away? How are we going to be in control of it? So standards around free prior informed consent and telling people about where that information goes, how it’s used, making sure that the context and the integrity of it is strong and keeping indigenous people aware of how that knowledge is used is where we need to get to. If you have a look at anything that I’ve written it’ll tell you more about that and in the indigenous theme of the State of Environment report there’s greater references and case studies and yeah just some examples around indigenous cultural and intellectual property and also indigenous data sovereignty. Thank you.

A:        Thank you. Can I just lead everyone to Two Tracks up in the bookstore that –

T:         Oh thank you for that.

A:        Thank you.

M:        Well done. Oh look, we’ve run out of time now but it’s actually – I was just thinking, Terri, about the – I guess - we have to hold governments accountable but there’s also that place where a role of just outright cynicism that things won’t improve is useless as well, especially when we see around us in different parts of government that might not have previously considered these issues actually seriously considering them. Tonight you’ve told us about the State of the Environment, the Productivity Commission has got an inquiry right now into – started out around kind of ownership of arts and culture and we’ve kind of expanded that a bit. So I have hope, I have hope but that’s what voting’s for too so turn out and vote in three years’ time and decide whether we’re moving forward. So thanks very much, Terri, for a fantastic talk tonight. I actually think you’ve been an honourable ancestor or people will say that in 30 years’ time and I actually think also that Uncle Eddie would have been very proud to have heard you speak tonight so thank you very much.


End of recording

The Mabo v Queensland (No. 2) decision was handed down in the High Court of Australia on 3 June 1992. ‘Mabo’—as it has come to be known—altered the foundation of land law in Australia. It provided official recognition of the inherent rights of Indigenous Australians to their traditional lands. The National Library of Australia holds an extensive collection of material relating to the Mabo decision and to its lead applicant, Edward Koiki Mabo.

To mark this anniversary, join Dr Terri Janke for a special lecture as she reflects on the effects Mabo decision 30 years on. Her talk will focus on the Indigenous knowledge and caring for country and the State of the Environment report.

Copies of True Tracks by Dr Terri Janke are also be available to purchase from the NLA Bookshop online.

As part of recognising the anniversary, the National Library invited Gail Mabo, Mr Mabo’s daughter, to select material for display to acknowledge this landmark moment. Explore the display in the Library’s Treasures Gallery.

Image credit: Greg Nelson ACS, Mer (Murray Island), 2017

About Dr Terri Janke

A lady in a blue top is smiling and has one arm leaning up on a windowsill.

Dr. Terri Janke is a Wuthathi/Meriam woman and an international authority on Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP). She is the founder and Solicitor Director of her law firm Terri Janke and Company. Terri is known for innovating pathways and collaborations between non-Indigenous and Indigenous people, with leading work in empowering Indigenous people in arts and business. Terri has developed well-renowned ICIP protocols known as the ‘True Tracks framework’, a foundational tool for recognising and valuing Indigenous people for their knowledge and culture.