Eddie Koiki Mabo Lecture Series

JCU celebrates the history making Mabo decision with an annual public commemorative presentation provided by a prominent person who has made a significant contribution to contemporary Australian society.

See below for links to lecture videos and transcripts.

What is Mabo Day?

Mabo Day occurs annually on 3rd June. It commemorates Eddie Koiki Mabo (c. 29 June 1936 to 21 January 1992), a Torres Strait Islander whose campaign for Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land rights led to a landmark decision of the High Court of Australia that, on 3 June 1992, overturned the legal fiction of terra nullius, which had characterised Australian law with regards to land and title since the voyage of Captain James Cook in 1770.

A brief history

Eddie Koiki Mabo was an Australian man from the Torres Strait Islands who was also a staff member at James Cook University, working as a groundsman from 1967 to 1971.

From 1973 to 1983 Eddie established and became the Director of the Black Community School in Townsville. During this time he enrolled as a student and studied Teaching at the (then) College of Advanced Education, which later amalgamated with the university. It was through his association with JCU humanities and education staff, Professor Henry Reynolds and Associate Professor Noel Loos, that Eddie became interested in who owned the land on which his people lived, and in Native Title.

Eddie's legal pursuit of these issues resulted in one of the most significant legal cases in Australian history, in that it completely overturned the idea ofterra nullius (land belonging to no one) and challenged traditionally held beliefs about how Australia came into being, and about ownership of land.

On 3 June 1992, six of seven Australian High Court judges ruled: The Meriam people are entitled as against the whole world to possession, occupation, use and enjoyment of the lands of the Murray Islands.

For many at JCU, the landmark legal decision has been rendered personal, as well as political and historic, because of Eddie's important association with JCU staff and students, and with our surrounding communities.


Prof N M Nakata
PVC Indigenous Education & Strategy, James Cook University

Transcript: The legacy of an Island man now enshrined in approaches to formal education


The Hon. Leeanne Enoch MP
Minister for Housing and Public Works and Minister for Science and Innovation

Transcript: Taking up space, taking our place


Ms Shannan Dodson
Digital Campaign Manager, Recognise

Transcript: Recognition, national identity and our future


Dr Bryan Keon-Cohen QC

Transcript: Mabo and Others: Products or Agents of Progress


Professor Henry Reynolds

Transcript: Mabo 20 years on. Did it change the nation?


Mr Mick Gooda

Transcript: Strengthening our relationships over lands, territories and resources: the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples


Professor Chris Sarra

Transcript: Our identity on our terms


Professor Ross Garnaut
Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow and Professorial Fellow in Economics, The University of Melbourne Distinguished Professor, The Australian University

Transcript: Climate change from the perspective of the Torres Strait


The Hon. Jenny Macklin MP
Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs

Transcript: Beyond Mabo: Native title and closing the gap


No lecture


Professor Larissa Behrendt

Transcript: The long path to land justice


Mr Hugh Mackay

Transcript: Every community needs its place


Fr Frank Brennan

Transcript: People, identity and place. A fair go in an age of terror: Countering the terrorist threat to human rights and the Australian identity