Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are advised that this post mentions and contains images of deceased peoples.

Today, 3 June, is the final day of National Reconciliation Week. It’s also Mabo Day.

Mabo Day commemorates Eddie Koiki Mabo, a Mer Island man and Indigenous rights activist. He led the Mabo case, which fought for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be recognised as custodians of Australia and disputed the legal concept of terra nullius.

The Latin term terra nullius means ‘land belonging to no one’. This colonial legal designation, which was pure myth in reality, was enforced by the British Government to justify the invasion of Australia. By calling Australia terra nullius, the British denied the existence and long history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on this continent. Terra nullius allowed the implementation of laws such as the Aborigines Protection Act, which led to the Stolen Generations. The aftermath of invasion, the myth of terra nullius and the repercussions of oppressive laws are still felt today.

The Mabo case began on the 20th May 1982 and was the beginning of a ten-year ordeal. Starting in the Queensland Supreme Court, the case ended up in the High Court of Australia by 27th February 1986.  The case was finally resolved on 3rd June 1992 when six of the seven Australian High Court judges ruled that the continient of Australia was not terra nullis when European settlement occurred.  Sadly, Eddie Mabo died just five months before the Mabo decision breathed life into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land rights. Following the Mabo decision, the Native Title Act 1993 was passed, establishing a legal framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to claim native title throughout Australia.


Black and white photo of Eddie Mabo wearing a checkered collared shirt. Trees can be seen in the background.

Eddie Koiki Mabo in Townsville, 1991.
Source: Bethyl Mabo, AIATSIS Collection, ATSIC.002.BW-E00256_31.


As National Reconciliation Week comes to an end, Mabo Day reminds us of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ resilience. It also reminds us that the journey toward reconciliation is not over. To help you learn more about our country’s history and understand how you can contribute to national reconciliation efforts, we recommend the following:

  1. Learn more about Eddie Mabo and the Mabo Decision case
  2. Check out Reconciliation Australia’s 20 Actions for Reconciliation in 2021
  3. Take a look at the GUMURRII Student Success Unit website
  4. Read Griffith University’s Reconciliation webpage
  5. Explore Western Sydney University’s Black Lives Matter LibGuide
  6. Find Indigenous authors via the BlackWords database
  7. Visit the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) website.