Remembering Koiki Mabo’s gift to reconciliation

Australians around the country are celebrating Mabo Day, which marks the anniversary of Koiki Mabo’s historic High Court victory.

Mr Mabo led the successful 10-year legal battle to have his people’s ownership of their Mer Island homeland recognised and overturned the infamous concept of terra nullius, or “empty land”.

Reconciliation Australia board member and Torres Strait Islander man, Kenny Bedford, said that Koiki Mabo’s gift to Australia was to overturn one of the main obstacles to achieving a truly just, equitable and reconciled nation.

“As long as the legal fiction of terra nullius, and the denial of First Nations’ occupation and ownership of our lands and waters, was applied, a lie about Australia and our history was being perpetuated. The legal challenge that resulted in the Mabo Decision, revealed the truth of our nation’s occupation and ownership by First Peoples.

“How could we possibly achieve reconciliation if the whole basis of Australian property law continued to deny our history and indeed, even our existence?” asked Mr Bedford. “In winning the case and overturning this shameful part of Australian legal history Ata (Grandfather) Koiki and his co-plaintiffs, Reverend David Passi, Aka (Grandmother) Celuia Mapoo Salee, Uncle Sam Passi and Ata James Rice, made reconciliation and justice a possibility.

“This is why the determination, strength and courage of Ata Koiki and the others are remembered on Mabo Day by Torres Strait Islanders, Aboriginal peoples and other Australians. has paved the way and points to the importance and impact of truth-telling toward achieving reconciliation.

“Twenty-seven years after Ata Koiki’s death and the High Court decision, we also celebrate the non-indigenous people who fought alongside them in a demonstration of reconciliation in action,” concluded Mr Bedford.

Read more about Mabo Day and Native Title.

NRW is a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures, and achievements, and to explore how each of us can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia. The week is held annually from 27 May to 3 June and is preceded by National Sorry Day on 26 May. These dates commemorate two significant milestones in the reconciliation journey— the successful 1967 referendum, and the High Court Mabo decision respectively.

Paul House with gum leaves and smoke
Paul Girrawah House

Paul Girrawah House has multiple First Nation ancestries from the South-East Canberra region, including the Ngambri-Ngurmal (Walgalu), Pajong (Gundungurra), Wallabollooa (Ngunnawal) and Erambie/Brungle (Wiradyuri) family groups.

Paul acknowledges his diverse First Nation history, he particularly identifies as a descendant of Onyong aka Jindoomang from Weereewaa (Lake George) and Henry ‘Black Harry’ Williams from Namadgi who were both multilingual, essentially Walgalu-Ngunnawal-Wiradjuri speaking warriors and Ngunnawal–Wallaballooa man William Lane aka ‘Billy the Bull’ - Murrjinille.

Paul was born at the old Canberra hospital in the centre of his ancestral country and strongly acknowledges his First Nation matriarch ancestors, in particular his mother Dr Aunty Matilda House-Williams and grandmother, Ms Pearl Simpson-Wedge.

Paul completed a Bachelor of Community Management from Macquarie University, and Graduate Certificate in Wiradjuri Language, Culture and Heritage and Management from CSU.

Paul provided the Welcome to Country for the 47th Opening of Federal Parliament in 2022. Paul is Board Director, Ngambri Local Aboriginal Land Council, Member Indigenous Reference Group, National Museum of Australia and Australian Government Voice Referendum Engagement Group.  

Paul works on country with the ANU, First Nations Portfolio as a Senior Community Engagement Officer

Acknowledgement of Country

Reconciliation Australia acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing  connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present. 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that this website contains images or names of people who have passed away.

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