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.”

Reflecting on her father’s gigantic legacy, Gail Mabo remembers that moment with a smile.

Today marks three decades since Mabo’s fight came to fruition, when the High Court of Australia handed down its decision to overturn the myth of terra nullius, or “land belonging to no-one”.

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.

“I hold him in the utmost respect because of the fact that he took on the government and won,” Ms Mabo said.

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

While he was having lunch one day with the university’s historians, Henry Reynolds and Noel Loos, they told him that, under law, his island was considered Crown Land.

Gail Mabo said that realisation sparked anger in her father and led to a decade of activism and a defining legal battle.

“The conversation that came out of that was, ‘You don’t actually own your land’. And he said ‘No, it’s my land’.”

In 1992, six of seven High Court judges found the Meriam people had traditional rights to their land — and in doing so, the court found that native title existed for all Indigenous people.

Hearing the High Court verdict was a bittersweet moment for the Mabo family, because Koiki had died just months before it was handed down.

Gail Mabo heard news of the decision in the car on ABC radio, and as the bulletin went to air, she recalls the heavens opened above her.

“Everything he did, it wasn’t in vain,” she said.

“He achieved what he set out to do, which was get his land back. That was the proudest moment.”

Mabo’s grandson on a mission to restore Koiki’s paradise

About 800 kilometres 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.

By 4difm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.