On June 3rd, we celebrate the life of a man who stood up against Australia’s High court and dismantled the credibility of a deep rooted and devastating legal concept. Mabo Day commemorates the decision made by the high court to abolish Terra Nullius, a concept that had led to the widespread dispossession of Indigenous land from their traditional owners.
Eddie ‘Koiki’ Mabo was born on the island of Mer (or ‘Murray Island’) in 1936. Growing up in the Torres Strait, Mabo came to notice the strict regulations that were imposed on the Islands by the Queensland Government. Though he felt the land belonged to his people, the land was in fact owned by the Queensland Government. After moving to Townsville in 1959 and working a number of jobs, he met Bonita Neehow, with whom he had ten children. In 1981, Mabo gave a speech at James Cook University on the topic of Mer Island, detailing traditional land ownership and the system by which land is inherited in the community. A lawyer who was present at the speech saw potential for a test case to claim land rights, approached Mabo and the rest is history.
Under the notion of Terra Nullius, Colonial Britain ignored and disregarded any previous owners of land in Australia, as Indigenous use of the land did not match the criteria that constitutes their definition of legal possession. As far as the government was concerned, the Indigenous peoples of Australia and the Torres Strait had never owned their land and their presence on said land was seen as trespassing on property belonging to the British Crown. Because of the Mabo decision, the Indigenous connection to country was finally recognised, and the case would serve as a legal precedent for future native title claims across the country.
Mau Power pays tribute to Eddie Mabo and his journey with the song ‘Koiki’ (available on iTunes, Google Play and Spotify) from the upcoming album Blue Lotus The Awakening. The song serves to bring attention to and honour the unsung heroes who have made immense sacrifices to make the world a better place. It also serves as a reminder that the journey is not over and that the legacy must be honoured and carried forward as the fight continues.
Two years ago we also appeared on ABC Morning News to speak about the importance of the day. Please watch that below.
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