(Warning: This article contains images and names of deceased Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people.)
The 3rd of June marks 29 years since Eddie Koiki Mabo overturned the false claims made by settlers who arrived in Australia that this land was uninhabited.
Terra nullius - the term that was used, is a Latin expression which translates to 'nobody’s land'. It is a principle used in international law to justify claims that land may be acquired by a state’s occupation of it. So basically, finders keepers.
But, as we know, the claim that this land was uninhabited couldn’t have been further from the truth as this land was not only inhabited, it had been for more than 65,000 years.
Leading up to the landmark case, Eddie, a proud Torres Strait Islander man from Mer Island, had told his teenage daughter, “One day, my girl, all of Australia is going to know my name.” And he certainly was right.
Eddie and his associates fought long and hard on the case over a period of ten years, starting off in the Queensland Supreme Court and later progressing through to the High Court of Australia. The battle was so long that sadly Eddie passed away just a few months prior to the 3rd of June 1992 when the historic decision was made. One year later, 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.
Eddie’s win had changed Australian law.
Each year, the date of Mr. Mabo’s win marks the last day of Reconciliation Week, and is celebrated with large gatherings and festivals being held throughout Australia, and especially in the Torres Strait where locals celebrate in loving memory of Grandad Koiki.
Eddie Koiki Mabo was an inspiration to both the Indigenous and wider Australian communities, and proof of the power of one person’s conviction and determination.
Now, nearly thirty years on there is still much work to be done, as our First Nations peoples continue to struggle to have their voices heard in a way that is meaningful. Check out our latest post here which looks further into Reconciliation Week 2021 and its powerful theme.
On this final day of Reconciliation Week, and every other day, we acknowledge the Yugambeh and Kombumerri people, the traditional owners of this land on which we operate and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.
(Images sourced from www.nma.gov.au)