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Top 10 Amazing Facts about Eddie Mabo


His full name is Edward Koiki Mabo, an Indigenous Australian man who lived from 29 June 1936  to 21 January 1992. He was from Torres Strait Islands and known for his role in campaigning for Indigenous land rights in Australia.

In particular, he championed the landmark decision of the High Court of Australia that overturned the legal doctrine of terra nullius, nobody’s land.

This had previously characterized Australian law with regard to land and title. High court judges considering the case Mabo v Queensland (No 2) found in favor of Mabo, which led to the Native Title Act 1993 and established native title in Australia.

Officially, the Native Title Act recognized the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia to own and use the land on which their families had lived for millennia.

When young, Mabo was influenced by his teacher Robert ‘Bob’ Victor Miles, a relieving teacher with the Schools for Islanders.

Bob was known as a friend of all his students, he not only taught the children of the islands but also learned their language and encouraged them to use their own language in class.

Mabo was one of these students and learned more than just language from Miles, he also gained an understanding of ‘mainland’ culture.

Mabo, who lived with Bob for a time while his mother was ill, later reflected on the importance of his education.

That, along with his confident use of language, self-assured public speaking, and understanding of mainland politics, culminated in the landmark case Mabo vs Queensland in 1992.

1. His Marriage

Mabo married Bonita Neehow, an Australian South Sea Islander, in 1959. The couple had seven children and adopted three more.

Bonita Mabo died in Townsville on 26 November 2018, aged 75, just days after receiving an honorary doctorate of letters from James Cook University. The honorary doctorate was for her contributions to Indigenous rights and human rights.

One daughter, Gail Mabo (born 1965), is a successful visual artist who has had her work exhibited across Australia. Before beginning her studies in art in the 2000s, she had a career in dance, choreography, and acting.

She has also worked with schools in New South Wales as a cultural advisor and has served as the family’s designated spokesperson.

2. His Career

Mabo worked on pearling boats, like a cane cutter, and as a rail becoming a gardener at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland at age of thirty-one.

In 1973, Eddie and Bonita Mabo established the Black Community School in Townsville, where children could learn their own culture rather than white culture.

The time Mabo spent on the campus had a massive impact on his life. In 1974, he was talking and working with James Cook University historians Noel Loos and Henry Reynolds, and Loos.

He also worked as a research assistant on an oral history project in the Torres Strait.

3. Land Rights Advocate

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In 1981 a land rights conference was held at James Cook University and Mabo gave a speech in which he explained the land inheritance system on Murray Island.

The significance of this in terms of Australian common law doctrine was noted by one of the attendees, a lawyer, who suggested there should be a test case to claim land rights through the court system. 

4. A Conference that agreed with his petition

Perth-based solicitor Greg McIntyre was at the conference and agreed to take the case; he then recruited barristers Ron Castan and Bryan Keon-Cohen. McIntyre represented Mabo during the hearings.

He won the battle ten years later when the decision was made in his favor.

5. Doctrine of Terra Nullius

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Five months later, on 3 June 1992, the High Court announced its historic decision to overturn the legal doctrine of terra nullius, which defined land which was supposedly “uninhabited” as liable for government seizure.

That decision, formally Mabo v Queensland (No 2), now commonly called “Mabo” in Australia, is recognized for its landmark status.

6. Fought to End Discrimination 

Eddie is one of Australia’s Indigenous Australian great heroes who fought tirelessly to end discrimination against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. By doing so, he gave all the Australians a belief in a fairer and more just country.

7. High Court Action

In May 1982, Eddie Mabo and four other Meriam people of Murray Island (Mer) began action in the High Court of Australia to legally confirm their traditional Native Title rights.
It was claimed that the Meriam people of Murray Island (Mer) could prove continuous possession of the island.

8. Shaking the Foundations of Australian

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As Eddie ‘Koiki’ Mabo sketched out his plans to shake the foundations of Australian law, he told his teenage daughter his prophecy: “One day, all of Australia will know my name.

9. A Hero in Historic Case


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The historic case set the benchmark for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across the nation to start to regain control and ownership over their lands.

10. Resting Place of Eddie Mabo

About 800 kilometers north of Cairns sits the small remote community of Mer (Murray) Island in the crystal blue waters of the Torres Strait.

These are the traditional lands and waters of the Meriam people, and the final resting place of Eddie Mabo in Las Village.

Eddie Mabo was a great hero to the Australian people. He brought light to the communities of Torres Strait and Aboriginals by enlightening them on the land rules and what they were entitled to.

The battle with the government was fruitful and his success was a place to the whole of the two communities.

However, of importance to note is that his family has continued to write about his legacy and his achievements.

For instance, the daughter Gail Mabo referred to the father as a Meriam man who was a school principal, a bus driver, a cultural teacher, and an activist before he went to work at James Cook University in the 1980s.

Kaleb Mabo, the grandchild, revived his resting place. 

A Meriam man, Mabo had been a school principal, a bus driver, a cultural teacher, and an activist before he came to work as a gardener at James Cook University in the 1980s.