Eddie Mabo

By Ruby Charge

Eddie's life

Eddie Koiki was born on June 29 1936 at Murray Island in the Torres Strait between Australia and Papua New Guinea. He was adopted by his uncle, Benny Mabo, after his mothers death. He was banished from his traditional lands when he was 16 as his Elders thought he was a troublemaker. Eddie then went and worked around Northern Queensland in lots of different jobs including an assistant teacher; a deck hand on pearl lugger and tug boats; a cane cutter; and a grounds keeper. Eddie also established Australia's first black community school in 1973.
It was during his time as a grounds keeper at James Cook University in Townsville that Eddie learned about Australian land ownership laws. He believed the land he grew up on, Murray Island, belonged to the Torres Strait Islander people who had lived there for thousands of years. But, Australian law stated that the Government owned the land. Eddie believed that these laws on land ownership were wrong and decided to fight to change them. In 1981, Eddie Mabo made a speech at James Cook University in Queensland, where he explained his people’s
beliefs about the ownership and inheritance of land on Murray Island. A lawyer heard the speech and asked Eddie if he would like to challenge the Australian Government. After this challenge in the High Court of Australia they overturned the legal doctrine of terra nullius [ "land belonging to nothing , no one".] that the land of Australia did not belong to anyone when the English settled and this meant that the Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders were the owners of the land. Eddie had fallen illl with cancer during the court case and died before it ended at age 55. Eddie was buried in Townsville but following the desecration of his grave, his body was re-interred on Murray Island. On the night of his burial islanders performed the sacred Malo dance in honour of Eddie Koiki Mabo.