In the mid-1960s an indigenous civil rights movement was starting to occur and there were several individuals that had massive impacts on how indigenous Australians live today. One of these people was Eddie Mabo. Eddie Mabo was born in 1936 on Murray Island but by the mid-1960s found himself fighting for his rights as an individual and for the rights of all indigenous Australians. This endeavour began when he told two academics about how he dreamed about spending his last days alive on his ancestral home of Murray Island that had been handed down through 15 generations of his family. However, the two academics told Mabo that the land belonged to the crown and that it did not belong to him. This incident led him to dedicating his life to reversing the injustice that had been bestowed on all of the indigenous Australians. This injustice being terra nullius.
Terra nullius is a Latin term that is used to describe land that seemingly belongs to no one however, a lot of the so called empty land masses were inhabited so the term then grew to encompass the meaning of a land that is devoid of civilised society. This is what happened when Australia was discovered by the British colony which later caused several lawsuits to occur about who the land really belongs to.
A lot of indigenous Australians fell victim to terra nullius including Mabo but unlike most at this time Mabo wasn’t going to give up so easily. Mabo became an activist for black rights after gaining an education along with making sure that Aboriginal children had access to their own schools. Eddie Mabo didn’t think that the more militant direct action tactics were the best way of gaining back their rights and instead focused on the legal side of things by trying to change the legal justification that was used to steal their land away from them. Over a span of 18 years Eddie Mabo campaigned, petitioned and questioned terra nullius until in 1992 all of his years of sacrifice and persuasion was finally fulfilled. The High Court finally ruled that the Aboriginal people were the rightful custodians of the land. While this was an incredible moment for the Aboriginal people of Australia it was also heartbreaking for the man who had orchestrated the whole movement never lived long enough to see the change that he brought to society. Eddie Mabo had passed away just 5 months before the verdict due to cancer on January 1992 at the age of 55.
It can clearly be seen that the way Australia used to treat the Aboriginal people was unjust and unfair and there are still several things that need to be fixed and made up for even today. However, Eddie Mabo was the beginning of good changes towards the whole country of Australia and everybody has been effected by this act of goodness. It has effected everyone that lives in Australia in a way that from now on each generation will be able to reflect on this incident and be inspired to do good things for others and to make good decisions.
- Australians together – The Indigenous civil rights movement in Australia. (2019, December 2). Retrieved from Austrlianstogether.org.au: https://australianstogether.org.au/discover/australian-history/civil-rights-movement/
- Eddie Mabo, the man who changed Australia. (2019, December 2). Retrieved from BBC News: https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-18291022
- Terra Nullius. (2019, December 2). Retrieved from Homepages.gac.edu: http://homepages.gac.edu/~lwren/AmericanIdentititesArt%20folder/AmericanIdentititesArt/Terra%20Nullius.html