MLS celebrates NAIDOC week with the launch of the classroom photo mural initiative

Melbourne Law School (MLS) staff, students and friends gathered last Wednesday to celebrate NAIDOC week and view the first in a series of images installed as part of the MLS Classroom Photo Initiative.

The image, which has been installed in one of the MLS lecture theatres, depicts the plaintiffs in the case of Mabo v Queensland (No 2) (1992) 175 CLR 1 with supporters and one of their lawyers in the Supreme Court of Queensland in 1989.

The installation of the image was marked with a Welcome to Country by Aunty Diane Kerr and an opening address from MLS Deputy Dean Matthew Harding.

Professor Harding said the classroom photo mural initiative sought to introduce Indigenous legal histories into the teaching spaces within the Law School.

“We are seeking to express our commitment to recognition and reconciliation in the physical environment in which we come together as a Law School community,”he said.

“(MLS) is a place where Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, along with people from all over the world, meet to learn and understand each others’ laws.

“It seems proper that the spaces in this building should reflect these facts, and should challenge and inspire the students, academics and others who meet here to reflect on what it means for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians to have lawful relations with each other.”

Professor Harding said the image from the Mabo case reminds us of the questions of the lawful relations that were brought to the surface by the case, many of which remain unresolved.

“As people who are learning and working with law, it is our responsibility to articulate clearly, to understand and to contribute to resolving those questions,” he said.

25 years on, Mabo v Qld (No 2) remains one of the most significant and complex cases in Australian legal history. The case was decided by the High Court in 1992, in favour of the plaintiffs, a group of Indigenous Meriam Islanders who asserted possessory, proprietary and beneficial ownership over their lands on Murray Island in the Torres Strait. The High Court’s decision acknowledged the existence of Indigenous Law and custom prior to British colonisation and led to the introduction of the Native Title Act in 1993.

An additional two images chosen for their national, historical and legal significance will be installed as part of the classroom mural initiative in MLS teaching spaces later in the year.

“Our hope is that the three images to be installed this year, through their constant presence in our building, will remind all who see them of the history of legal relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, and also inspire all who see them to imagine how legal relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians might be different and to work to bring about that vision,” Professor Harding said.