Good Morning Ms Sparks and class. Today I will be doing my presentation on the Mabo Decision. A decision that was very significant in giving a massive boost to the struggle for the recognition of Aboriginal land rights.
The Mabo decision was a legal case held in 1992 and is short for Mabo and others v Queensland (No 2) (1992). On June 3rd 1992, the high court of Australia delivered its landmark Mabo decision and rewrote the Australian common law. The High Court is the highest court in Australia’s judicial system. The Mabo decision in the High Court was the culmination of a legal battle started ten years earlier by a group of plaintiffs from the tiny Torres Strait island of Mer to establish their traditional ownership of the Murray Islands. The Mabo decision was named after Eddie Mabo, the man who challenged the Australian legal system and fought for recognition of the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the traditional owners of their land.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples occupied Australia for 40,000 to 60,000 years before the British arrived in 1788. They spoke their own languages and had their own laws and customs. They also had a strong connection to ‘country’ – the Australian land. When the British arrived, they declared that Australia was terra nullius (empty land – or land that belongs to nobody. As a result, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ occupation of and unique connection with the land were not recognised, and the British took the land without agreement or payment. The Mer Islanders decided they would be the ones to challenge the legal principle of terra nullius in the High Court and that Eddie Mabo would be the one to lead that action.
Eddie Koiki Mabo (29 June 1936 to 21 January 1992) was an Australian man from the Torres Strait Islands. Mabo’s love for his homeland drove the proud Torres Strait Islander to undertake a 10- year legal battle that rewrote Australia’s history. In 1981, Eddie Mabo made a speech at James Cook University in Queensland, where he explained his people’s beliefs about the ownership and inheritance of land on Mer. A lawyer heard the speech and asked Eddie if he would like to challenge the Australian Government in the court system, to decide who the true owner of land on Mer was – his people of the Australian Government. And this is exactly what Eddie Mabo did.
The Mabo case ran for 10 years. On 3 June 1992, the High Court of Australia decided that terra nullius should not have been applied to Australia. This decision recognised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have rights to the land – rights that existed before the British arrived and can still exist today. The Mabo decision was a turning point for the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rights, because it acknowledged their unique connection with the land. It also led to the Australian Parliament passing the Native Title Act in 1993. Sadly, Eddie Mabo never found out the result of his legal case. He died in January 1992, just five months before the High Court made its decision.
Mabo Day occurs annually on June 3rd to commemorate Eddie Mabo and his incredible achievement to campaign for indigenous land rights led to a landmark decision of the High Court of Australia that overturned the legal fiction of terra nullius on June 3rd 1992. Eddie Mabo Jnr, on behalf of the Mabo family, said: We believe that a public holiday would be fitting to honour and recognise the contribution to the High Court decision of not only my and his co-plaintiffs, James Rice, Father Dave Passi, Sam Passi and Celuia Salee, but also to acknowledge all indigenous Australians who have empowered and inspired each other.
Eddie Mabo made the incredibly brave decision to stand for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land Rights which turned out to be one of the best decisions for Australia’s Indigenous people. Thank-you for listening.