Eddie Koiki Mabo Library Art Exhibition

Library About Locations Exhibitions Eddie Koiki Mabo Library Art Exhibition

Unveiling the plaque naming the Eddie Koiki Mabo LibraryOn May 21, 2008, JCU launched its Reconciliation Statement and, to give effect to the  University’s commitment to reconciliation, the University named the University Library on the Townsville Campus after Eddie Koiki Mabo (b. June 29, 1936 - d. January 21, 1992) - a Torres Strait Islander activist, and former JCU staff member and student. The Hon Jenny Macklin MP, Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs unveiled the commemorative plaque that bestows his name on the library where he spent many productive hours reading, studying and researching law and land rights.

Eddie Koiki Mabo

Eddie Koiki Mabo was a Torres Strait Islander man from Murray Island (traditional name, Mer) and a long-time resident of Townsville. He is well-known as a land rights activist and was the lead plaintiff in what has become known as the Mabo Cases I and II. In 1982, he and several other Mer Islanders - Sam Passi, David Passi, Celuia Mapo Salee and James Rice - started a legal action that lasted 10 years. On June 3, 1992, a decision was handed down in the High Court of Australia in favour of the plaintiffs. This overturned the concept of terra nullius (no man’s land) that underpinned the Crown’s claim to own all the land of Australia. Sadly, Mr Mabo passed away five months before the decision was made. Click here to view a brief timeline of his life.

Eddie Koiki Mabo was one of the most important historical figures to have spent time at the University. Employed at JCU as a groundsman, he was also a student, guest lecturer, and colleague and friend of JCU staff and students. Several catalyzing moments that led to the Mabo cases are acknowledged to have occurred at the University. These include conversations with his friends, the historians Henry Reynolds and Noel Loos; and a 1981 conference where he delivered a speech that sparked the interest of lawyers (Butt, Eagleson & Lane, 2001; Loos & Mabo, 2013; Screen Australia Digital Learning, 2008; Sharp, 1996). In 2008, JCU Vice-Chancellor, Sandra Harding noted that the naming of the library will “forever commemorate the link between the man who changed the land laws in Australia and James Cook University.”

The Art Exhibition

An exhibition of the artworks of Gail Mabo, his daughter, was held on the first anniversary of the naming of the Eddie Koiki Mabo Library. Library and Information Services staff endeavour to hold an annual Indigenous art exhibition in commemoration from May 21st for three weeks to coincide with National Sorry Day (May 26), National Reconciliation Week (May 27 to June 3), and Mabo Day (June 3).

The event enables Library and Information Services staff, students and visitors the opportunity to participate in the JCU Reconciliation Action Plan in a broad public manner. As a vibrant celebration, the exhibition enlivens our public space and generates conversation not only about the art but also the building name, the man behind it, the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and to recognise and value cultural diversity as an asset which enriches the life of the university community.

2017 Eddie Koiki Mabo Library Art Exhibition

Reflections: 25 years on


Gail Mabo

For Gail Mabo, 2017 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of two significant events. On 3 June 1992, the High Court of Australia upheld the land rights claim led by her father, Eddie Koiki Mabo. Poignantly, Eddie had died just months earlier on 21 January. The significance of these events is enhanced by occurring 25 years after the 1967 referendum that succeeded in removing from the constitution two references discriminating against Indigenous Australians. Gail’s exhibition of new works and earlier pieces are a reflection of the changes witnessed over this passage of time in a broader sense, but also of her own personal growth as an artist.

The Mabo Library building is open to the public and the exhibition - held in 2017 from 19 May to 12 June - is accessible to all visitors to view, free of charge.

Facilitation of the exhibition and artists

We are fortunate to have Gail Mabo as our exhibition patron. Gail assists by contacting local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists to exhibit and to run artist-in-residence workshops.

Library and Information Services staff do not handle any sales or charge commission. Any sales from the exhibition and commission of new work is handled by the artist.

The University normally selects and purchases a work from each exhibition to add to the JCU Art Collection. This enables us to incorporate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and cultures within the physical structures and spaces of the University.

Previous Exhibitions and Artists

Tommy Pau, 2016

Tommy Pau 

Ad Wer: Story of the Stars from Eastern Torres Strait Island (2016)

Tommy is a descendent of the Eastern Torres Strait Islands, Australian Aboriginal, Papua New Guinea, Pacific Islander and Asia. He speaks Torres Strait Creole and Australian English.  His work in linocut prints depicts many aspects of traditional Torres Strait culture, including myths and legends.

He is passionate in representing Indigenous arts and artists in general and the protection and true representation of Torres Strait Islander arts and culture. He is a member of the Board of the Cultural Centre-Townsville, Umi Arts and Umbrella Studio Contemporary Art. He holds a Bachelor of Education and is currently completing a degree in New Media at James Cook University.

Teho Ropeyarn, 2015

Teho Ropeyarn Mandang Ikamba – Strength of a crocodile (2015)
Teho Ropeyarn is from Injinoo in Cape York Peninsula and currently lives and practices in Cairns. Teho is a descendant of the Angkamuthi and Yadhaykana clan groups from Northern Cape York Peninsula with extended heritage to Moa, Badu and Murray Island in the Torres Strait, Woppaburra from Great Keppel Island and the Batchulla people from Fraser Island. Teho graduated with a Degree in Fine Arts from the University of New South Wales - College of Fine Arts, Sydney in 2010. Teho produces large-scale, bold linocut and vinyl relief prints depicting and preserving his culture in a contemporary medium, including textiles.

Sharon Banjo, 2014

Sharon Banjo My Land, My Art, My People (2014)
Sharon Banjo is from Laura in Cape York Peninsula; an area famous for both the rock art galleries depicting Quinkan spirits which she paints and the biennial Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival. She is a descendant of the Olkolo people, one of the Traditional Owners Groups in the Cape. She has lived in Townsville for the past twenty years with her family. Sharon works mainly in acrylics on canvas and traditional ochres.

Aicey Zaro, 2013

Aicey Zaro

Aicey Zaro, Umbrella Studio display, CIAF 2013.

Kara Uteb, Kara Nerkep (My Heart, My Home) (2013)

Aicey Zaro was born in Ayr, North Queensland. His mother is an Aboriginal descendant of the Birri Gubba Juru, the traditional people of the Burdekin area, North Queensland. His father is from Murray Island (Mer) in the Torres Straits, which is the northern-most part of Queensland situated between the tip of Cape York Peninsula, Australia and Papua New Guinea. Aicey works in prints, murals, and paintings in various media.

Photograph: Kerry Trapell
Image supplied courtesy Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF) and Arts Queensland.

See a video about Aicey's exhibition here: Aicey Zaro Exhibition Opening

Susan Peters Nampitjin, 2010

Susan Peters 

Winkirr (Dreaming and Reflections of Country) (2010)

Susan is a descendant of the Walmajarri people. She grew up in outback Queensland. Her artworks encompass knowledge of traditional Aboriginal lore and culture, family life experiences, lifestyles and stories that have been passed onto her by her extended families, grandparents, aunties, uncles, sisters and brothers.

Gail Mabo, 2009 & 2012

Gail Mabo 

Mabo Kara Art (Mabo My Art) (2009)

17 (2012)

Gail Mabo is a Townsville resident, the daughter of Eddie Koiki Mabo, and is our exhibition patron. She is a professional artist and works in various media. Her Mabo Library exhibitions have concentrated on paintings and prints. Her artwork, The Land I Own, is displayed in the Eddie Koiki Mabo Library.

For More Information

Contact the Australian Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Library Liaison Officer for information about the Mabo Library Art Exhibition.

The JCU Libraries welcome exhibits and displays that support the social, cultural and intellectual life of the University and of our communities. If you are interested in holding an exhibition in the JCU libraries please read our exhibition guidelines and apply online.

Other JCU Mabo Events

JCU celebrates the Mabo decision with an annual public commemorative presentation, known as the Mabo Lecture. For more information, see the Events at JCU page.

Bibliography and Recommended Readings

Southern entrance to Mabo LibraryThe JCU Libraries hold resources about Eddie Koiki Mabo and the land rights cases he was involved in. Some resources are available online.

Butt, P., Eagleson, R., & Lane, P. (2001). Mabo, Wik & Native Title (4th ed.). Leichardt, Australia: Federation Press.

Haslem, D. (Producer), & Graham, T. (Director). (2012). Mabo: Life of an island man [DVD]. Sydney, Australia: Film Australia.

Keon-Cohen, B. (2013). A Mabo memoir: Islan kustom to Native Title. Malvern, Australia: Zemvic Press.

Loos, N., & Mabo, E. (2013). Edward Koiki Mabo: His life and struggle for land rights (2nd ed.). Brisbane, Australia: University of Queensland Press.

Mabo. E., & Australia High Court. (1943-1992). Papers of Edward Koiki Mabo, 1943-1992 (MS 8822, microfilm). National Library of Australia Archives, Canberra, Australia.

Olbrei, E. (Ed.). (1982) Black Australians: The prospects for change. Townsville, Australia: Student    Union James Cook University.

Sharp, N. (1996). No ordinary judgment: Mabo, the Murray Islanders' land case. Canberra, Australia: Aboriginal Studies Press.

Screen Australia Digital Learning (ca. 2008). Mabo: The Native Title revolution. Retrieved from http://www.nfsa.gov.au/digitallearning/mabo/home.shtml