The Lasting Impact of Mabo Day on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Rights

Explore the significance of Mabo Day and its enduring influence on the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Understanding the history of Mabo Day

Mabo Day is an annual event celebrated on June 3rd to commemorate the historic decision made by the High Court of Australia in the case Mabo v Queensland (No 2) in 1992. This day holds great significance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as it marked a major milestone in the recognition of their land rights and the overturning of terra nullius.

Terra nullius, which means 'nobody's land' in Latin, was the legal doctrine that declared Australia as unoccupied before British settlement, thereby denying the existence of First Peoples rights to land. The Mabo decision challenged this unjust notion and acknowledged the long-standing connection and custodianship of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to their ancestral lands.

Landmark legal case: Mabo v Queensland

The landmark legal case of Mabo v Queensland was a turning point in Australian history. It was named after Eddie Koiki Mabo, a Torres Strait Islander man from Mer (Murray Island) in the Torres Strait, who led the fight for recognition of First Peoples land rights.

In this case, the High Court of Australia acknowledged the existence of Native Title, which is the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' rights to their Traditional Lands and Waters. This landmark legal case marked a significant shift in Australian law and set a precedent for future land rights claims.


Eddie Koiki Mabo at Las, Mer/Murray Island, 1989. Photo: National Museum Australia 

Challenges and progress in First Peoples land rights

While the Mabo decision was a significant step forward in recognising First Peoples land rights, there are still ongoing challenges in achieving full and meaningful recognition and protection of these rights.

Some of the challenges include the complexity of the Native Title process, the need for stronger support and resources for First Peoples communities engaging in land claims, and the ongoing impact of colonialism and dispossession on First Peoples peoples and their lands.

However, there has also been progress in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land rights since the Mabo decision. Land agreements and Native Title determinations have been reached in various parts of Australia, providing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities with greater control and decision-making power over their Traditional Lands. These achievements reflect the resilience and determination of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in asserting their rights and seeking justice.

Legacy of Eddie Koiki Mabo

Mabo Day serves as a reminder of Mabo's legacy and the ongoing fight for First Peoples land rights. It is a day to honour and celebrate the achievements of Eddie Koiki Mabo and all those who have contributed to the advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights.


Mabo Day Celebrations. Photo: Wikimedia Commons


As a Torres Strait Islander owned business, Mabo Day holds a particular significance to us at Ilan Style. It is particularly close to home as our founder, Kerry Arabena, is a Meriam woman whose grandmother grew up on Mer Island, the same island that Eddie Koiki Mabo is from. 

Torres Strait Islander peoples and culture continue to have an impact on Australia and the world. In another landmark case, Uncle Paul Kabai and Pabai Pabai are currently in the process of suing the Australian government for “failing its duty of care” to protect the Torres Strait Islands from the impacts of climate change. If they succeed the government could be required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a level that will protect Torres Strait Islanders from harm, and by extension have a positive global impact on emission levels.

The significance of Torres Strait Islander peoples and culture is a key reason that revitalising Torres Strait Islander languages is something we are actively working towards with the Ilan Style Fellowship. This is a culture that deserves to be celebrated and honoured now and for years to come. We celebrate Mabo Day as an annual reminder of this. 


Celebrate Mabo Day with us!

Join us in celebrating Mabo Day with our special Mabo Day Collection, a collaboration with Haus of Dizzy with art by Kayla Rae Arabena.

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