Mabo Day 2020

In 1983, as a student at James Cook University I was undertaking studies in the Graduate Diploma of Aboriginal Education. One of the subjects was called "Race and Culture" which was also a core subject for the Diploma of Education students; hence our weekly mass lectures on Friday morning held up to 200 students. The lecturers Associate Professor Noel Loos and Professor Henry Reynolds tended to lead the lectures but every few weeks there would be a guest speaker, generally a fellow academic but sometimes a community person.

One such Friday morning the topic of the lecture was the 'Torres Strait Islands' and the guest speaker, a short Torres Strait Islander man stepped up to the lectern and talked of his island in the Torres Strait. There were several slides to go with his lecture as he spoke with a passion and love for his island - Murray Island or as he called it Mer

The speaker's name was Eddie 'Koiki' Mabo and he had just began his struggle to prove that Murray Island belonged to the Torres Strait Islander people!

Every Mabo Day, I reflect back on that morning and how the passion of one individual can create history. At the time Eddie was working as a groundsman at James Cook University and had a strong friendship with both Noel Loos and Henry Reynolds who encouraged him to challenge the laws of land ownership in the Torres Strait.

The Mabo Case as it came to be known took over a decade before a final decision was handed down by the High Court on 3rd June 1992. Sadly, Koiki had passed away five months prior to the decision; however, the legacy of his struggle was for the benefit of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Within the State Library collections, there is a significant amount of published items and original materials relating to the Torres Strait Islands, including the Mabo Case. One of the most popular and well-known items is the Margaret Lawrie Collection, an extensive collection of art, language, genealogies and cultural materials collected by Margaret Lawrie in the 1960's. The collection is eagerly sought by community members, language researchers, academics to gain an insight into the culture and lifestyles of the Torres Strait Islands.

Within the collection is an item known as Myths and Legends of Torres Strait, a published book of stories from several islands of the Torres Strait featuring traditional myths and language. It was originally published in 1970 and has proved so popular, State Library has commissioned a reprint of the book to commemorate its' 50th Anniversary.




Desmond Crump

Indigenous Languages Coordinator, State Library of Queensland


State Library Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages Webpages

Spoken: Celebrating Queensland languages exhibition

Jarjum Stories exhibition

Minya Birran: What next for Indigenous Languages?



State Library holds a number of significant items relating to the Mabo Case, including the following:

6837 Justice Moynihan - Determination re Mabo Case Papers.

Three bound volumes regarding the determination of a reference from the High Court of Australia of the factual issues raised in the action by Eddie Mabo and others - prepared by Justice Moynihan. (No. B12 of 1982 in the High Court of Australia). Volume 1 (227pp), Volume 2 (58pp). Volume 3 (146pp). John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Australia.

Transcript of the High Court of Australia between Eddie Mabo, David Passi, James Rice...and the State of Queensland Proceedings for 28-31 May 1991, 3 June 1992, and 8 December 1992.

OM95-26 Mabo Cutting Books 1990-1994 - (2 vols.) 23 Nov 1990 - 21 Oct 1994.


Further Reading

Further reading on the Torres Strait Islands, particularly language and stories include the following items from State Library Collections.

Babia, M. and Day, E. Torres Strait Picture DictionaryJUVQ 499.1503 tor

Davies, A. Notes 1924-1925OM66-02/3

Edwards, R. Some songs from the Torres StraitQ 782.5162 SOM

Erub: The Coming of the Light. Digital Story. Darnley Island Arts Centre. 29469

Gisu, S. Meriba Mir Erwerem: a book on reading and writing Meriam Mir for people who already read English.  Q 499.15 MER 

Jukes, J. Narrative of the surveying voyage of the HMS FlyJ 919.43 JUK

Lawrie, M. Myths and legends of the Torres StraitQ 398.2099438 MYT

Lawrie, M. The Margaret Lawrie Collection of Torres Straits MaterialsTR2082 

MacGillivray, J. Narrative of the Voyage of the HMS Rattlesnake. G 994.02 1967

Mosby, L. Stephens, N and Teske, T. D is for dari : a Torres Strait picture dictionaryP 994.38 MOS

Piper, N. A sketch grammar of Meryam MirQ 499.15 pip 

Ray, S. Dictionary of Torres Strait LanguagesQ 499.1503 RAY

Scragg, S.  Retold: A retelling of stories and songs from Myths and Legends of the Torres Strait by Margaret LawrieDVD 27464

Sharp, N. Stars of Tagai: the Torres Strait IslandersG 994.38 1993

Shnukal, A. Broken, an introduction to the Creole language of Torres StraitJ 427 shn 

Singe, J. The Torres Strait: people and historyG 994.38 1989

Tabo, S. Triggerfish and Trevally = Nageg and Geigi. A traditional story retold by Stephen Tabo; illustrated by Peter Lankas. JUV 398.2 TAB

Vocabulary of the Murray Island dialect FILM 0713

6341 Dr Wilhelm Rechnitz Papers 1949-1972.  



For further information on Mabo Day, Koiki Mabo and the cultures and histories of the Torres Strait, visit the following websites:

Gab Titui Cultural Centre

Retold: A retelling of stories and songs from Myths and Legends of Torres Straits

Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA)

Torres Strait Traditional Languages Centre


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