Bonita Mabo honoured in Qld state funeral

Ernestine "Bonita" Mabo was a small woman who became a giant of Australia's indigenous land rights and reconciliation movements.

Dr Mabo was remembered as the mother of native title as well as a loving mother and grandmother at her state funeral on Thursday.

She was a mighty role model, and the reason her grandson could walk proud as a black man in Australia, mourners said.

The renowned indigenous rights campaigner died last week aged 75, just days after being awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters from James Cook University in recognition of her work in indigenous education.

She was granted a state funeral following her death as a mark of the impact she had on the nation.

Dr Mabo famously worked with her late husband Eddie Koiki Mabo to help establish the Native Title Act of 1993.

The change did away with the concept of "terra nullius" which had been the legal justification for forcing indigenous Australians from their land by European settlers.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told the hundreds of people at the Townsville funeral service that Dr Mabo was an "unlikely giant".

"I say 'unlikely' because Bonita Mabo was not imposing, not physically," Ms Palaszczuk said.

"And yet this slight women from Ingham would change the course of history.

"Bonita's story is powerful. It'll be told and retold as a beacon to generations to follow her lead."

Dr Mabo was a Malanbarra woman, born near Ingham, descended from Vanuatuan workers brought to Queensland.

She married Eddie in 1959, and the couple had 10 children, with indigenous education becoming one of her lifelong passions.

Dr Mabo co-founded Australia's first indigenous community school, the Black Community School in Townsville, after becoming fed up with her children not learning their own history and culture.

Her sister Aunty Roslind White delivered the eulogy, while her grandson Kaleb Cohen read a letter to his "Norni" saying he didn't come to say goodbye, but "thank you".

"You are the reason I can walk with my chest out and my head held high. You are the reason I feel proud to be a black man in this country," he said.

In 2013, Dr Mabo was awarded an Officer of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to the indigenous community.

In recent years she had been fighting for South Sea Islanders to be recognised as a separate ethnic group in their own right, and was an honorary patron of the Australian South Sea Islanders Alliance.

After the service a traditional smoking ceremony was conducted, with mourners asked to donate to Diabetes Queensland instead of sending flowers.

© AAP 2018