Eddie Koiki Mabo Lecture Series

Celebrating the history marking Mabo decision with an annual public commemorative presentation

An historic moment in time

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

Eddie Mabo was a staff member at JCU, working as a groundsman from 1967 to 1971. From 1973-1983 he established and became director of the Black Community School in Townsville. During this time he enrolled as a student and studied teaching at the College of Advanced Education, which later amalgamated with JCU. 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 Mabo'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 of terra 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 [in Torres Strait].

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.

Annual lecture series

JCU celebrates the history making Mabo decision with the long established Eddie Koiki Mabo Lecture Series, an annual public commemorative presentation by a prominent person who has made a significant contribution to contemporary Australian society.

The Mabo Political Settlement: What became of the social justice package?
2017 presentation by Professor Megan Davis, Pro Vice Chancellor Indigenous, University of New South Wales. No transcript available
Re-thinking Indigenous Learning Support
2016 Series Presentation by Professor N M Nakata, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Indigenous Education and Strategy, James Cook University.
Taking up space, taking our place
2015 Presentation by The Hon. Leeanne Enoch MP, Minister for Housing and Public Works and Minister for Science and Innovation
Recognition, national identity and our future
2014 Presentation by Ms Shannan Dodson, Digital Campaign Manager, Recognise Australia
Mabo and others: products or agents of progress?
2013 Presentation by Dr Bryan Keon-Cohen QC
Mabo 20 years on: did it change the nation?
2012 Presentation by Professor Henry Reynolds
Strengthening our relationships over lands, territories and resources: the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
2011 Presentation by Mr Mick Gooda
Our identity on our terms
2010 Presentation by Professor Chris Sarra

Lecture archives

Transcripts for lectures presented between 2004 and 2009

Climate change from the perspective of the Torres Strait  (PDF, 299 KB)
2009 Presentation by Professor Ross Garnaut, Vice-Chancellor's Fellow and Professorial Fellow in Economics, The University of Melbourne, and Distinguished Professor, The Australian University

Beyond Mabo: Native Title and closing the gap  (PDF, 425 KB)
2008 Presentation by The Hon. Jenny Macklin MP, Minister for Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs

The long path to land justice  (PDF, 433 KB)
2006 Presentation by Professor Larissa Behrendt

Every community needs its place  (PDF, 524 KB)
2005 Presentation by Mr Hugh Mackay

People, identity and place. A fair go in an age of terror: countering the terrorist threat to human rights and the Australian identity  (PDF, 432 KB)
2004 Presentation by Fr Frank Brennan SJ AO