Barbara Hocking OAM

Barbara Hocking dedicated over 30 years of her professional career not only to educating the public, but also to changing the law of Native Title.

Honour Roll

When Barbara Hocking first read about Native Title she was astonished. At first glance it was a foreign concept. But for Barbara it was a concept that resonated.

Barbara first learned about Native Title while studying law at Melbourne University. One of the legal textbooks recommended for reading was The Legal Conscience by Felix Cohen focussing on Native American Native Title.

"A lot of the work he did was for the recognition of Native American land and I thought why don't we have that here? This was in the 1960s and hardly anyone in the white community had heard of it in Australia," Barbara said.

So she read some more, researched the issue in Canada and New Zealand and then started pushing for Native Title in Australia. With a small but passionate group committed to their cause, she set about changing the course of history.

"We had to change the law," she said. "We had to convince the High Court that the legal system had made a mistake and that native titles existed." In 1981 she was the first barrister briefed to advise on the Mabo case. By the time the historic case concluded in 1992, its namesake Eddie Mabo had died but he had been confident of the case's outcome.

"He felt, as I did, that it would succeed. And it did," Barbara said. "I gained a great deal of satisfaction from the case, not only was it very rewarding to be involved in setting something right that was wrong in the law but it was also wrong ethically. I was pleased that the law was put right."