Terra Nullius no more

June the 3rd marks the anniversary of Mabo Day, a day that has important ramifications for Australian Society. Mabo Day is a day that is virtually unknown and ignored by most Australians.

On the third of June 1992 the High Court of Australia rejected the ridiculous notion of "Terra Nullius", that this land was not occupied before European colonisation. Eddie Mabo a Torres Strait man born on Mer in the Torres Strait and living in Townsville in Queensland conducted a ten year battle through the courts that led to this historic judgement. The Mabo Judgement states in law that indigenous Australians have by prior occupation, ownership of land where native title has not been extinguished.

June the 3rd, 1992 marks the beginning of a reconciliation process between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians that is based in law, not charity. It opened up a new chapter in the often difficult relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

The Mabo decision is arguable the most important decision that the High Court of Australia has made since Federation. It states Indigenous people have Legal Rights not just Symbolic Rights to all Crown Land in this country, as well as possible rights to pastoral leases. Mabo Day marked the beginning of a new era for Indigenous people. It changed Australian's views of themselves and their rights to this land. It has forced mining companies and the corporate world to take stock of Indigenous peoples' claims. It has radically altered the relationship between Indigenous and non Indigenous people in this country.

On the tenth anniversary, in 2002, Eddie Mabo's widow, Bonita Mabo, called for a national public holiday on the anniversary of the High Court's decision. Mrs Mabo said Eddie Mabo would be singing and dancing in delight over the progress made. "He would be dancing and singing - I can see him doing it," she said. "It's going to be a long time but at least we're starting to get somewhere which is great. Since '92 there was nothing like this around and you know people couldn't say, 'oh this is my land, this is my country, I'm a traditional owner', which makes them so proud of who they are." Mrs Mabo said a national holiday would be the most appropriate way of celebrating Mr Mabo's efforts. "You know we don't have to have the Queen's birthday weekend."

On the eleventh anniversary, in 2003, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) launched a petition to make June 3 an Australian Public Holiday. Eddie Mabo Jnr, for the Mabo family, said:

We believe that a public holiday would be fitting to honour and recognise the contribution to the High Court decision of not only my father and his co-plaintiffs, James Rice, Father Dave Passi, Sam Passi and Celuia Salee, but also to acknowledge all Indigenous Australians who have empowered and inspired each other.

To date we have not had a public holiday that acknowledges Indigenous people and which recognises our contribution, achievements and survival in Australia.

A public holiday would be a celebration all Australians can share in with pride – a celebration of truth that unites Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and a celebration of justice that overturned the legal myth of terra nullius - Mabo symbolises truth and justice and is a cornerstone of Reconciliation.

Mabo Judgement


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