Mabo Day is marked annually on 3 June. It commemorates Mer Island man Eddie Koiki Mabo and his successful efforts to overturn the legal fiction of terra nullius, or ‘land belonging to no-one’.
What is the Mabo case?
Short for Mabo and others v Queensland (No 2) (1992), the Mabo case, led by Eddie Koiki Mabo, an activist for the 1967 Referendum, fought the legal concept that Australia and the Torres Strait Islands were not owned by Indigenous peoples because they did not ‘use’ the land in ways Europeans believed constituted some kind of legal possession.
Despite the fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples occupied the land, spoke their own languages and had their own laws and customs before the British arrived in 1788, ‘Terra nullis’ was an attempt to give ‘legitimacy’ for the British and Australian governments to allow the dispossession of all Indigenous peoples of their land.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people also had – and continue to have – a strong connection to ‘Country’ – the Australian land.
Why is it significant?
The Mabo case was heard over ten years, starting in the Queensland Supreme Court and progressed through to the High Court of Australia.
Following the Mabo decision, Australia’s Federal Parliament passed the Native Title Act 1993 which established a legal framework for native title claims throughout Australia by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Sadly, Eddie Mabo died 5 months before the historic decision came on 3 June 1992 that ‘native title’ did exist and it was up to the people of Mer to determine who owned the land. Together with Reverend Dave Passi, Sam Passi (deceased), James Rice (deceased), Celuia Mapo Salee (deceased) and Barbara Hocking (deceased), he was posthumously awarded the Australian Human Rights Medal in the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Awards.
In 2015, 23 years after the decision, Eddie Mabo was honoured by the Sydney Observatory in a star naming ceremony, a fitting and culturally significant moment in our nation’s history.
Residing within the Sydney Southern Star Catalogue, The Mabo star not only recognises Eddie’s dedication, but pays tribute to the importance of astronomy to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Read more about Mabo Day and Native Title.
Learn more about Eddie Mabo