Mabo was born in the Murray Islands, north of Australia. His mother died in childbirth, and according to tribal custom he was adopted by his paternal uncle and aunt.
As an adult he worked as a fisherman, cane cutter, railway laborer, gardener-groundsman, vocational officer and community arts liaison officer.
He established Australia's first Aboriginal-run community school, in Townsville, Queensland. But he will be remembered primarily for the landmark legal challenge he initiated, Mabo and others v State of Queensland. It lasted from 1982 to 1992 (four months after his death) and resulted in the overthrow of the 205-year-old legal doctrine of terra nullius. This doctrine had held that native Australians and Islanders had no legal land rights, and had been the basis for the wholesale expropriation of their land by white settlers.
In 1993 he was named Australian of the Year by The Australian newspaper.
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