Prominent indigenous and South Sea Islander activist Bonita Mabo has died at the age of 74.
The advocacy worker and widow of Eddie Mabo reportedly took her final breath on Monday morning, just days after receiving an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from James Cook University for her contribution to social justice and education for indigenous children, the ABC reports.
According to NITV, Bonita died passed away peacefully surrounded by family and loved ones.
While the cause of her death has not been reported, a 2016 interview with The Australian noted that Bonita had recently been forced to retire from her advocacy work due to a range of health problems, including failing eyesight caused by diabetes.
The Australian South Sea Islander Alliance issued a touching statement following her death saying how she “will be greatly missed” and that “Australia has lost one of the greatest matriarchs of all time”.
Tributes have already begun to flood social media with a number of high-profile Aussies as well as members of the indigenous community paying their respects.
Queensland Deputy Premier and Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships Jackie Trad wrote that Bonita was an “incredibly important and enduring voice for change for First Nations and South Sea Islander peoples”.
Others remembered her as an “incredibly strong and wonderful woman” and used the hashtag #BecauseOfHerWeCan in tribute to Bonita’s life-changing work.
Bonita and husband Eddie are well known throughout the country for their work campaigning for indigenous land rights and the influential role played in the High Court of Australia’s decision to overturn the legal doctrine of terra nullius (nobody’s land).
Eddie’s legal claim for ownership of their lands on the island of Mer with the High Court of Australia began on May 1982. Ten years later on June 3, 1992 the court ruled in favour of Eddie in recognising the traditional right of the Meriam people to their islands in the eastern Torres Strait.
Sadly, Eddie passed away from cancer in January before the decision was announced. The following year the Native Title Act 1993 was passed through the Australian Parliament, meaning further claims of traditional rights to land and compensation could be made.
Before her death, Bonita told The Australian it was her dream for June 3 to be made a national public holiday, in recognition of the High Court’s ruling.
“It should be for everyone. I could go to my grave happy to know that is a day for all Australians,” she told the publication.
Following Eddie’s passing, Bonita became the co-founder of Australia’s first indigenous community school, the Black Community School in Townsville, north Queensland. Here she worked as a teacher’s aide where she provided continuity and cultural training to the children.