The anniversary of the Mabo decision has received its fair share of press this month (and of course there was dramatisation that was shown on the ABC). Brian Keon-Cohen was one of the junior counsel for the plaintiffs. His paper “The Mabo Litigation: A personal and Procedural Account” is a good read. I particularly like the section dealing with what happened immediately after judgment had been handed down:

“…. Following delivery of written reasons, the Court adjourned. I repaired upstairs to chambers on the sixth floor of the High Court building, feeling somewhat overawed. With me was the veteran Age journalist, Cameron Forbes, who had attended court. I rang Murray Island — that is to say, I rang the phone box located, as readers will recall, outside the general store. The conversation went something like this:

‘Hello, Bryan Keon-Cohen here, who’s that?’
‘Do you remember Eddie Mabo’s case, that court case about land?’
‘Well, I’m ringing you from that Court in Canberra where those top Judges are, you know, that High Court.’
‘Oh yes.’
‘Well, those Judges, they told us their decision just now: Eddie won. You Murray Islanders have won that court case. You own the island under your laws and custom.’
[Screams of what I took to be joy, laughter, yelling, much discussion in the background.]
‘Hello! Hello! Is anyone there?’ says I.
‘Oh thank you, thank you, we are very happy, I have to go and tell my Mum. Goodbye.’
‘Bye. See ya.’

And that, as they say, was that. I flew back to Melbourne, threw the brief into a corner in the time-honoured fashion of the Bar, and took a holiday from this litigation….”

Creative commons attribution for the photograph.

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