Mabo, Edward Koiki

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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.


Loos, Noel, and Mabo, Koiki. Edward Koiki Mabo: His Life and Struggle For Land Rights. (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1996)
Monash Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Australia, general editors John Arnold and Deirdre Morris. (Port Melbourne: Reed Reference Publishing, 1994)
Guilliatt, Richard. "The Man Who Changed Australia," The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 August 1997
National Library of Australia. "MS 8822: Papers of Edward Koiki Mabo (1936-1992)." [Includes portraits]. Available at:
The Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History, Society and Culture, David Horton, general editor. (Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, 1994)


Australian Aboriginal
20th Century
Civil Rights, Advocacy
Education, Teaching, Libraries
Exile or Persecution (religious, Political or Social)
Birth or Infancy
Unmarried Mother, Single Parent (Mother or Father) Unable to Cope
Uncles and Aunts, Parents' Uncles and Aunts
Customary or Traditional Adoption, Informal and Extra-Legal Care
Parent(s) Died, Disappeared or Became Incapacitated
Always in Contact or Knew Identities
Visitor Comments (1)
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Rolf Nilsson - 4 years ago
0 0 0
I fully respect the intention of this reference however I believe it's misleading in its derivations. Eddie Mabo was transferred to family by a process, one name of which, is 'kupai omasker'. His birth name was Eddie Sambo. Today the state in which he was born does not allow traditional adoption recognition for the arrangement that Eddie Mabo had. In fact it was an argument used by the State, through the Judge, to disallow his claim for land rights saying he did not have a valid adoption and wasn't really a Mabo - overturned in the high court. It is rare to find a Torres Strait Islander family that does NOT have a child placed within it using traditional processes (Kupai Omasker). The result is that hundreds indeed thousands of indigenous children raised in this way do NOT have the protection of legislation and their parents are made to feel bad about it. Licences and birth certs don't match etc. The ex-chief justice (retired) Alastair Nicholson heads a taskforce to try to fix it. #1

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