Eddie Mabo

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Eddie Koiki Mabo , originally Edward Koiki Sambo , (born June 29, 1936 on Murray Island (Mer) in the Torres Strait Islands archipelago , † January 21, 1992 in Brisbane , Queensland in Australia ) was a Torres Strait Islander who lived in Australian history became famous for his advocacy of land rights for the indigenous people, consisting of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders. He achieved that the High Court of Australia annulled the legal term Terra Nullius (no man's land) for Australia, which determined the Australian legal claim to land for centuries. It was a legal judgment ( Mabo v. Queensland (No. 2) ) about an island in 1992, which had a special influence on the development of the legal understanding and the self-image of the indigenous population of Australia, because this judgment won by Mabo made it possible that the Torres Strait islanders and Aborigines have a fundamental claim to their traditional land and some land was given back. The judgment concerns the main island Mer from the group of Murray Islands, which is only 4.1 km² in size.


His birthplace is on the main island of Mer of the Murray Island Group in the Torres Strait between Australia and Papua New Guinea . Eddie Mabo belonged to the Meriam and his parents to the Piadaram clan. His father, Robert Zezou Sambo, was married to Annie Mabo, who died when Eddie Mabo was a child. Mabo, whose original name was Edward Koiki Sambo, changed it when he was adopted by his uncle Benny Mabo and his aunt Maiga after the death of his mother . In 1959 he married Bonita Neehow, with whom he had ten children.

In 1960 he became a union representative on the Townsville- Mount Isa rail construction project . In 1962 he served on the Townsville Harbor Board and became secretary for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advancement League . In 1967 he started working as a gardener at James Cook University. After this time he was the principal of the Black Community School, which was established in 1973 for children of the Torres Strait Islanders and Aborigines. This school was closed in 1983, and from 1981 he campaigned for the land rights of the indigenous people.

His hobbies were painting and boating. He died of cancer on January 21, 1992 at the age of 55.


Eddie Mabo had a number of jobs before becoming a gardener at James Cook University in Townsville , Queensland, at the age of 31 . The time he spent on campus greatly influenced his later life. In 1974 he had a heated discussion with Professor Noel Loos and Henry Reynolds, a historian who cites Eddie Mabo's reaction as follows:

... we were having lunch one day in Reynold's office when Koiki was just speaking about his land back on Mer, or Murray Island. Henry and I realized that in his mind he thought he owned that land, so we sort of glanced at each other, and then had the difficult responsibility of telling him that he didn't own that land, and that it was Crown land. Koiki was surprised, shocked and even ... he said and I remember him saying 'No way, it's not theirs, it's ours'.

(German:… one day we were having lunch in Reynold's office when Koiki was talking about his land “Mer” or Murray Island. Henry and I understood that he thought he and his tribe were the landowners, so we looked at each other and then explained to him that it was not he who owned the land, but that it was the land of the crown. Koiki was surprised, even shocked ... he said, and I remember hearing him say: 'No way, it is not yours, it is ours. ')

Land rights

In 1981 a land rights conference was held at James Cook University, and during the reception, Eddie Mabo made a clear statement in his speech about the ownership of land and the legacy of this island country. The status of his legal opinion was questioned by other participants, who assumed that he was a lawyer seeking a test to obtain land rights in the Australian legal system.

When the decision became known, Henry Reynolds said: "... it was a ten year battle and it was a remarkable saga really." (German: ... it was a ten-year battle, and it is really a remarkable story ).

Death and inheritance

Eddie Koiki Mabo died on January 21, 1992 and was buried in Townsville Cemetery. Five months after his death, the High Court announced its historic ruling that the Terra Nullius (No Man's Land) legal institution had been abolished and that the British had no legal right to land on the Australian continent. Henry Reynolds explained : “ ... so Justice Moynihan's decision that Mabo wasn't the rightful heir was irrelevant because the decision that came out was that native title existed and it was up to the Aboriginal or Islander people to determine who owned what land "(German: ... the decision of Judge Moynihan that Mabo was not a legitimate heir is insignificant, but the decision that came out of it meant that a native title existed and that it was up to the Aborigines or the islanders to determine who owned this land). '

This decision is now generally Mabo v. Queensland (No. 2) (1992) called, it recognizes the legal rights of the Aborigines and Torres Strait islanders to their traditional land. Since the third anniversary of Mabo's death, there has been an annual gathering of the people of Murray Island held in Townsville, Queensland in his memory.

In the meeting of 1995 the end of the period of mourning was celebrated, the wooden cross of his grave was replaced by a marble tombstone. The following night his grave was desecrated , defaced with eight red swastikas and a racist swear word , and a bronze bas-relief portraying him disappeared . The family then took his body to Mer, Murray Island, and buried it there, in the land he loved and fought hard for. That same night, the islanders formed their traditional ceremony of a tribal chief's funeral, a ritual that had not been practiced in 80 years.

In 1992, Eddie Mabo was posthumously awarded the Human Rights Medal from the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Awards , along with Rev Dave Passi, Sam Passi, James Rice, Celuia Mapo Salee and Barbara Hocking. The award was the recognition “ of their long and determined battle to gain justice for their people” [and the] “work over many years to gain legal recognition for indigenous people's rights”. “(German: for their determined fight for the rights of their people [and for the] work over many years to legalize the rights of the Aborigines).

On Australia Day 1993 , The Australian newspaper recognized his work by choosing him Australian of the Year for 1992; this award should not be confused with the official Australian of the Year award from the Australian government.

On May 21, 2008, James Cook University renamed its Townsville Campus Library to the Eddie Koiki Mabo Library , where he originally worked as a gardener. Mabo name lives on at JCU ( Memento from March 30, 2009 in the Internet Archive )

At the request of Australia, UNESCO added Eddie Mabo's personal papers and other documents on the case to the list of World Document Heritage in 2001 under the entry “The Mabo Case Documents” .


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b Facts Sheet - Edward Koiki Mabo 1936–1992. (No longer available online.) Racism No Way, archived from the original on February 25, 2008 .;
  2. 1992 Human Rights Medal and Awards. Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, accessed July 11, 2018 .
  3. Papers of Edward Mabo Koiki - MS 8822. National Library of Australia , accessed on September 23, 2007 .
  4. The Mabo Case Manuscripts | United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Retrieved August 30, 2017 .