Library Special Collections Eddie Koiki Mabo Library Art Exhibition

Eddie Koiki Mabo Library Art Exhibition

About the Eddie Koiki Mabo 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, Eddie Koiki Mabo passed away five months before the decision was made. Click here to explore a timeline of his life, and to read about JCU Library's connection to the Mabo story.

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, then JCU Vice Chancellor, Professor 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.

2022 Mabo Library Art Exhibition

The 2022 Mabo Library Art Exhibition will showcase the work of Arone Meeks.

Name of Exhibition: “Tribute” Arone Meeks
Artist: Arone Meeks
Exhibition running: 20 May - 10 June 2022

2022 marks the 30 year anniversary of the Mabo case, one of the most significant turning points for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the fight for native title. To celebrate, JCU Library is hosting the exhibition "Tribute" Arone Meeks. This “Tribute" exhibition features artworks from the late Arone Meeks (b.1957 - d. 2021), a nationally and internationally acclaimed and celebrated Queensland artist and proud Kuku Midiji man.This exhibition has been collaboratively curated by independent Cairns-based artist Geoff Dixon and the Manager of Special Collections Bronwyn McBurnie, and will include selected paintings and prints created by Arone Meeks in the years between 2001 – 2021.

View the 2022 "Tribute" Arone Meeks Exhibition

Take a tour of the exhibition on the ground floor of the Eddie Koiki Mabo Library. You can drag the view around and zoom in to see the art in more detail. Click on the signs next to the artwork to learn more about it.

Click here for full screen

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

2020 Mabo Library Art Exhibition - Artist Residency Program

In 2020, James Cook University Library & Information Services is hosting an Artist Residency Program  - Drawn to the Mabo Library - which will take place in the Eddie Koiki Mabo Library, including Special Collections and the surrounding grounds of the Townsville Campus.

The intention of this program is to open the Library for artists to interpret and respond visually and creatively to:

  • the Library’s buildings and public spaces,
  • relevant items in the Special Collections, and
  • the program theme: People, Place, Knowledge, Legacy.

Our Artist in Residence for 2020 is Rob Douma. Rob is a Townsville-based artist who has has tertiary qualifications in Visual Arts, runs his own tattoo business, is part of the Townsville Urban Sketchers group and regularly works on commissioned artworks. He has been a finalist in numerous drawing and portrait awards and was the inaugural winner of the 2018 Napier Waller Prize held by the Australian War Memorial.

The residency program will culminate in an exhibition of original art works by Rob later this year.

View the 2020 Artists Residency Exhibition

Take a tour of the exhibition on the ground floor of the Eddie Koiki Mabo Library. You can drag the view around and zoom in to see the art in more detail. Click on the signs next to the artwork to learn more about it.

Click here for full screen


10 Years: A celebratory exhibition of works by artists who have previously exhibited in the Mabo Library Art Exhibition

Recycling Station in Eddie Koiki Mabo LibraryFor 2018, the Eddie Kioiki Mabo Library Art Exhibition was proud to welcome back our previous artist to showcase their work past and present.

The display featured the work of Gail Mabo, Tommy Pau, Teho Ropeyarn, Sharon Banjo, Aicey Zaro and Susan Peters Nampitjin.

Gail Mabo, 2009, 2012, 2017 & 2018

Gail Mabo

Gail Mabo is a multi-disciplinary artist, whose practices include dance, acting and visual art. The middle  daughter of Eddie ‘Koiki’ Mabo and Bonita Mabo, Gail was born (1965) and raised in Townsville.  With the family originally from Mer (Murray Island) in the Torres Strait, Eddie ‘Koiki’ Mabo was the political activist and land rights campaigner whose crusade famously resulted in the Mabo Decision being handed down in the High Court on 3rd June 1992.

After completing her early education at the first school for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Townsville, opened by her father in the 1970s, Gail studied dance at the Aboriginal and Islander Dance Theatre in Sydney from 1984 to 1987.   She performed in Jimmy Chi’s Bran Nue Dae in its 1991 Sydney season and worked as a choreographer and dancer in Tracey Moffat's 1986 short film Watch Out and as an actor in Moffat’s Nice Coloured Girls in 1985. In 2005 she directed the stage show Koiki which was a performance based on the life of her father.

In 2005 she completed a Certificate IV in Visual Arts at the Barrier Reef Institute of TAFE and a Diploma of Visual Arts at the same TAFE in 2007. She enjoyed immediate success as a visual artist that has seen her involved in many group and solo exhibitions across Australia and in Singapore. Her work deals with contemporary expressions of Indigenous identity, peeling back layers of history to reveal the spirits of the Indigenous peoples who lived on these lands. Much of her work is inspired by connection to land, and she invites the audience to reflect on their own lives and experiences within this land.

Gail is also a highly sought after public speaker and has travelled the world representing the issues and cultural traditions of Indigenous people as well as sharing her personal stories and experiences as a Torres Strait Island woman. Gail’s work is represented in major regional and national galleries across Australia.

Tommy Pau, 2016 & 2018

Tommy Pau

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

Tommy is descendent of the Eastern Torres Strait Islands, Australian Aboriginal, Papua New Guinea, Pacific Islander and Asia. He speaks Torres Strait Creole and Australian English. He was born in Townsville and lived there as an infant before moving to Brisbane, Thursday Island and Cairns.

He was taught about the need to keep culture strong through cultural practice by his father. He has a strong commitment to keeping old traditions alive and believes that culture must remain true to the past and move with time to exist in the future.

Tommy has vast experience in the arts and his art forms of choice include printmaking, painting and three-dimensional sculptures. Some of his major life achievements include completing a Bachelor of Education and winning the Telstra Work on Paper Award as part of the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards in 2016. His works are in major public and private collections in Australia.

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. Currently, he is completing a degree in New Media at James Cook University.

Teho Ropeyarn, 2015 & 2018

Teho Ropeyarn

Teho Ropeyarn is an emerging artist from the community of Injinoo on the Cape York Peninsula and is currently based in Cairns.

He was born in Mount Isa in 1988 and 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 – Great Keppel Island and the Batchulla people from Fraser Island. Teho graduated with Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of New South Wales – College of Fine Arts, Sydney in 2010.

Teho’s focus as a contemporary artist is to preserve and document the knowledge passed down from Injinoo Elders. Permitted by his Elders, Teho recreates these stories within artworks that express a contemporary approach to imagery, symbols and metaphors.  His work is featured in major collections including the National Gallery of Australia, the Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory, the University of Newcastle, the University of New South Wales, James Cook University and Cairns Regional Gallery.

Sharon Banjo, 2014 & 2018

Sharon Banjo

Sharon Banjo is from Laura in Cape York Peninsula and this area is 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 who are one of Traditional Owners Groups in the Cape.  She has lived in Townsville for the past twenty five years with her family.

Sharon started painting when she was in her twenties and began formal  training at Pimlico TAFE in 1997. Later, through the Barrier Reef TAFE, Sharon began to participate in group and solo exhibitions at places like Townsville’s Perc Tucker Regional Gallery. In 2007 she was named Student of the Year by the Barrier Reef TAFE.  Sharon also works as an artist in residence and runs workshops at schools and events.

Sharon mainly works in acrylics on canvas and traditional ochres. Her artwork is inspired and influenced by her memories and experiences of growing up in the Laura area. In her own words “When I was a kid we would all go down to the river and swim and eat bush tucker all day. We would eat yams, wild berries, barramundi, freshwater mussels, crayfish, turtles and flying foxes”. These experiences, cultural knowledge, and memories of country and home can be seen in the subjects of her paintings concentrated around animals and landscape in a mix of bright and earthy colours.

Aicey Zaro, 2013 & 2018

Aicey Zaro Aicey Zaro, Umbrella Studio display, CIAF 2013.

Aicey Zaro was born in Ayr, North Queensland Australia; his mother is an Aboriginal descendant of the Birrigubba Clan of 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 the Cape York Peninsula, Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Aicey developed a very recognisable style while attending an art course at the Burdekin Institute of TAFE in Home Hill (1999-2004). His artworks reflect his love for the flora and fauna of the land and sea of Tropical North, Queensland Australia. His extensive understanding of Torres Strait Island history and identity is proudly embedded in his arts practice. Zaro’s work has been featured in group exhibitions including; Queensland’s 150 years at Umbrella Studio, Now and Then: 150 Years of Art Making, as well as exhibitions in Queensland Galleries, Hawaii, and Melbourne. He is a founding member of Murris in Ink and was a participant at the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair in 2009 and 2010. His work was included in Ngapa Kai Kai, a folio of linocut prints which toured Queensland and NSW.

His works are in prominent private and public collections including the Queensland State Library, Perc Tucker Regional Gallery and the National Gallery of Australia

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 & 2018

Susan Peters

Vivid memories of country whilst travelling with her family around the vast lakes and river ways of the Lake Gregory, Billiluna and Balgo regions of Western Australia informs Susan Peters’ art work. Her lino-prints recall the ripening Garnti, bush potato, found and gathered in the sandy areas in the deserts where her family lived. Her work reveals ceremonies that are practiced to refresh the memories, stories and events of what her tribal  people call Waljirri, time of creation.

Susan is an Aboriginal woman whose family is from Balgo Hills in the Kimberly, WA. She comes from a traditional painting family with little formal training, this blending of cultures is reflecting in her pictorials of bush plants, bush foods and wild life. Using graceful lines and rich colours she dramatically but meticulously paints on large canvases creating major works.

Susan’s work has been included in group exhibitions at the Cultural Centre – Townsville, Perc Tucker and Pinnacles Regional Galleries, Umbrella and Strand Ephemera.

For More Information

Contact the Manager, Special Collections 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 Library The 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