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Eddie Mabo, the man behind Mabo Day

Stories | Culture and Capability

2 Jun 2020

Eddie Mabo

On 3 June, Australians commemorate Mabo Day, marking the anniversary of the historic Mabo decision.

Eddie Mabo of Mer island in the Torres Strait spent a decade seeking official recognition of his people’s ownership of Mer and on 3 June 1992, the High Court of Australia agreed, rejecting the doctrine that Australia was terra nullius (land belonging to no-one) at the time of European settlement.

Eddie’s daughter, Gail Mabo remembers that day well.

“I was sitting in a car breastfeeding my six month old son, who was born the day before I buried my dad, when I heard on the radio we had won the case,” Gail said.

“I started crying and thinking that if my father was alive he would be dancing. I then heard the sound of thunder and said to my son ‘hear that, he is dancing.’”

Gail said her family shared the same response to the High Court win.

“It was a shock when he won because most people didn’t think we would win. It was unheard of for a single person to change the whole history of a nation and for Dad to do that it was an awakening call to Australia to say ‘it’s time to right a wrong’ and embrace Indigenous people.”

Asked about what she thought we should be celebrating this Mabo Day, Gail said that it is about honouring those with the drive to succeed.

“For me, Dad’s legacy is that through strength of culture and commitment you can achieve anything. People who are fighting for their own native title have to believe in themselves and their culture because that is what will help them succeed.

“His strength was that he knew who he was as a man, where he was from and that the fight he was doing was right. He always knew the land was his,” Gail said.

This article was first published in 2012.

The Mabo Decision led to the National Native Title Tribunal, an independent agency established by the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) (the Act).

Since then Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across Australia have made hundreds of successful native title claims to the very land they and their ancestors have occupied for thousands of years. 

Find out more

For more information, read Defining Moments - Mabo Decision. 

For more information about Native Title claims, see Statistics and Native title representative bodies and service providers. 

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