30th anniversary of Mabo v Queensland: a landmark case for native title


Audiences are advised that the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander material displayed contains culturally sensitive imagery and descriptions which may not normally be used in certain public or community contexts. Annotation and terminology which reflects the creator's attitude or that of the era in which the item was created may be considered inappropriate today. The material contains images and names of deceased persons.

Our Land

In the lead-up to the Mabo Native title claim Eddie Koiki Mabo was working as a gardener at James Cook University, Townsville. University historians Noel Loos and Henry Reynolds recall... “we were having lunch one day when Koiki was speaking about his land back on Mer, or Murray Island. Henry and I realised that in his mind he thought he owned that land, so we sort of glanced at each other, and then had the difficult responsibility of telling him that he didn't own that land, and that it was Crown land. Koiki was surprised, shocked... he said, and I remember him saying, 'No way, it's not theirs, it’s ours!'”

Source: Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies

30 years on State Library of Queensland acknowledges this period in Queensland’s history, featuring collections from the John Oxley Library with significant links to Mabo, the case, the family and the people of Mer Island in the Torres Strait. 

Mabo Case on Mer Island, 1989

Eddie Mabo and others on a ship with Mer Island in the background, May 1989

This collection of photographs includes images of Mer Island residents and the official party of the Supreme Court who travelled to Mer Island on 23-25 May 1989 to take testimony in the ‘Mabo v Queensland’ court case, a landmark case that eventuated in the High Court of Australia's decision in 1992 to recognise native title in Australia.

Mrs Patricia Smith presented the photographs to Justice Moynihan in an album in 2012. They include aerial views of Mer Island, site visits, garden plots and adjacent seas and the court hearing in progress and six photographs by photographer, James McEwan. Acc 29122


Mabo family collection

This collection includes shirts worn by Eddie Koiki Mabo and his extended family, many of them containing personal messages of support for the Mabo struggle, Mer Island culture and the successful Mabo High Court case.

Among the textiles are silkscreens used by Dr Bonito Mabo AO, wife of Eddie, to print her designs and publications including a corflute poster for Mabo Day 2017 and an information pack for the inaugural Eddie Mabo Memorial Lecture and Dinner in 2002. Also included is the Mabo family's annotated copy of Margaret Lawrie's publication 'Myths and legends of the Torres Strait'. Acc 32825


Textile shirts from the Mabo family collection. Acc 32826 John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photo by Joe Ruckli, 2022.

Margaret Lawrie Collection of Torres Strait Islands 1964-1998

Collection linking to the Torres Strait Islander people and culture

Margaret Lawrie travelled to the Torres Strait between 1964 - 1973, often staying for months at a time. During her visits she recorded family histories and stories told by people. The research and cultural history of the Torres Strait formed the basis of  two publications - "Myths and Legends of Torres Strait" (1970) and "Tales from Torres Strait" (1972). 

The Margaret Lawrie Collection was added to UNESCO's Australian Memory of the World Register in 2008. The collection of transcripts, audio recordings, photographs, art works, slides and stories were donated to State Library of Queensland in 1996. TR 1791


Ministerial visit to Mer Island

In 2015 Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott AC visited Mer (Murray) Island in the Torres Strait group.

Cairns based documentary photographer Brian Cassey travelled with the official party. He recorded the events including an official visit to Eddie Koiku Mabo’s burial site, Island dancers in traditional dress and a visit to Mer Eruer Uteb Tagai State College, where the Prime Minister met with local Mer women.


Eddie’s daughter Gail Mabo with Prime Minister Tony Abbott AC at Eddie Koiki Mabo’s grave site on Mer Island, 2015. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image number: 18397394560-0001-0010

Traditional Mer Island dancers prepare to greet Prime Minister Tony Abbott AC on his visit to Mer Island Torres Strait 2015. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image number: 18397394560-0001-0003

Children in traditional dress ready to welcome Prime Minister Tony Abbott AC to Eddie Koiki Mabos grave site during his visit to Mer Island Torres Strait 2015. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image number: 18397394560-0001-0006

Prime Minister Tony Abbott AC with children while visiting Tagai State College Campus during his trip to Mer Island Torres Strait 2015. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image number: 18397394560-0001-0002.

Mabo Cutting Books, 1990-1994

The Cutting books ( 2 vols) in this collection date from 23 Nov 1990 - 21 Oct 1994. They were compiled by the John Oxley Library and include newspaper clippings and articles referencing the "Mabo" Aboriginal land claim debate, Aboriginal land rights and the Native Title Act. Acc 95-260  


Mabo Cutting Books (Vols 1 & 2) 1990 - 1994, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland (Acc 95-260)

Podcast - "Hi, I'm Eddie"

Podcast - "Hi I'm Eddie"

2022 Australian Podcast Awards winner for the 'Best Indigenous Podcast' category.

Join Rhianna Patrick and listen to the six episodes of Hi, I'm Eddie,  a podcast commissioned by State Library of Queensland in recognition of the Mabo v Queensland 30th anniversary and the overturning of ‘terra nullius’ on Mer (Murray) Island in the Torres Strait in 1992.  


More resources

Curriculum Connect educational resource for teachers and students - Legacy: Reflections on Mabo