Mabo Day

June 3, 2020 all-day Australia/Melbourne Timezone

Mabo Day is celebrated each year on 3 June. On this day in 1992 the High Court of Australia delivered a landmark decision which recognised the traditional rights of the Meriam people to their Mer (Murray) Island in the Torres Strait.

Six of the seven judges upheld the claim and ruled that the lands of this continent were not terra nullius or land belonging to no-one when European settlement occurred, and that the Meriam people were ‘entitled as against the whole world to possession, occupation, use and enjoyment of (most of) the lands of the Murray Islands.’

In Mabo v. Queensland (No. 2), judgments of the High Court inserted the legal doctrine of native title into Australian law. The High Court recognised the fact that Indigenous peoples had lived in Australia for thousands of years and enjoyed rights to their land according to their own laws and customs. They had been dispossessed of their lands piece by piece as the colony grew and that very dispossession underwrote the development of Australia into a nation.

The decision was made in just less than 10 years from when the plaintiffs including Eddie Koiki Mabo began their legal claim for ownership of their lands on Mer Island. Eddie Koiki Mabo, who helped lead the Meriam plaintiff’s case, died one month before the High Court decision was made.

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