Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Rachel Perkins (director) Sue Smith (writer), Mabo (2012)

The film Mabo (2012) was directed by Rachel Perkins and written by Sue Smith.  It was intended to celebrate the life and glorify the place in history of the Torres Strait Islander Eddie Mabo who is the most famous Indigenous campaigner for Aboriginal land rights.  This is because of his role in the historic legal case that saw the High Court decide 6 to 1 in favour of recognising native title.  What became known as the ‘Mabo case’ of 1992 led to the Native Title Act of 1993, which codified and strengthened Aboriginal land rights throughout Australia. 

The film attempts to build a strong case for Indigenous tribal culture being respected as a living culture with generations of continuity, and that Indigenous people have a customary practice of land ownership that is intrinsic to their enduring sense of identity, which has survived despite British settlement and the imposition of British law and then Australian law.  In this way, the film upholds the legitimacy of Aboriginal land rights claims.

In addition, this campaign for land rights is placed in the context of the broader struggle against racism in Australia, with racism presented as deep-seated and pervasive, subjecting black people to many forms of discrimination and injustice that exist in addition to their denial of land rights and the recognition of native title. 

In this context, the film celebrates political activism for progressive causes, like anti-racism, and depicts this kind of political activism as a way to make history and to give meaning to one’s life by leaving a legacy of progressive reform.  This celebration of left-wing political activism extends itself to an appreciative treatment of the trade unions as performing a role in fighting for the rights of workers in their class struggle against exploitation, a struggle that saw the trade unions embrace Aboriginal causes when few other organisations were willing to do so. 

This biography of Eddie Mabo also provided a vehicle for the filmmakers to provide a celebratory dramatization of the extensive and exhaustive legal campaigns for Aboriginal land rights conducted by lawyers, academics and others who were committed to their vision of social justice.   

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

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The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: Mabo meaning, Mabo themes, Mabo analysis, Mabo notes