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Edward Koiki Mabo was born in 1936 on the island of Mer, one of the Murray Islands, which are located at the eastern extremity of Torres Strait. In June 1992, six months after his death, Mabo achieved national prominence as the successful principal plaintiff in the landmark High Court ruling on native land title. The High Court ruling, for the first time, gave legal recognition to the fact that indigenous land ownership existed in Australia before European settlement and that, in some cases, this land tenure was not subsequently extinguished by the Crown.
Access conditions may apply to this collection, please refer to the collection's catalogue record for further information (http://nla.gov.au/nla.cat-vn612970).
Copying and publishing of unpublished manuscript material is subject to copyright restrictions. For such material, written permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s). Copying of unpublished material for research purposes is permissible 50 years after the death of the creator of the material.
Items from this collection should be cited as '[Title or description of manuscript item], Papers of Edward Koiki Mabo, National Library of Australia, MS 8822, [series and file number]'.
An initial instalment of papers of Eddie Mabo was acquired by the Library from his widow, Bonita Mabo, in 1994. A further instalment was acquired from the same source in November 2002.
Other material relating to the Mabo land rights case are held in the Manuscript Collection in the papers of Bryan Keon-Cohen at MS 9518.
The papers in the original instalment of the Mabo collection have been copied onto microfilm (mfm G 27539-27549) which is held in the Newspaper and Microform collection. Due to minor alterations to the original arrangement of the papers in 2006, the series and folder numbers on the microfilm may differ to those in this finding aid. The original finding aid is available to researchers upon request.
The Oral History collection holds a number of sound recordings of interviews and lectures by Eddie Mabo at TRC 3504.
Artworks by Eddie Mabo are held in the Pictures Collection and can be accessed via the Library's catalogue.
When the Library took delivery of the initial instalment of Mabo Papers, they consisted of a mixture of labelled files and loose papers. Files created and identified by Mabo have been retained and located in their appropriate series. In some cases, where papers were clearly misfiled, file contents were rearranged by Library staff in consultation with the Mabo family. Loose papers have been arranged into series in thematic and chronological order by Library staff. Readers can identify files created by Mabo as these have been kept in their original folders and stored in the Library's numbered acid-free folders. The guide published by the National Library in 1995 is a record of the content and organisation of the original instalment.
Loos, Noel and Mabo, Koiki. Edward Koiki Mabo: his life and struggle for land rights. Brisbane : University of Queensland Press, 1996.
Contain occasional entries recording appointments, activities, addresses and telephone numbers.
Contains occasional entries recording appointments, meetings, telephone numbers. Some entries in the hand of Jessie Mabo-Smith, daughter of Mabo.
Contains entries in two languages, English and Meriam Mer. Records details of work for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporation for Legal Aid Services and other activities.
Contains brief entries recording appointments and daily activities, including work for the Moomba Festival and the 5th Festival of Pacific Arts, and visits to Canberra for High Court sittings.
Contains a number of detailed entries, particularly during the period January-March. Describes meetings with the Premier of Queensland and the Commonwealth Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Gerry Hand), visits to Torres Strait and attendance at High Court sittings.
Contains entries describing events, activities, domestic life, visits to Torres Strait and progress on the court case.
Contains entries describing activities, domestic life, travel, health, and progress on the court case.
Contains six filled pages, dated early January. Written while Mabo was in Townsville and Brisbane Hospitals with his final illness. Reflects on life, love for his wife and family, family inheritances and rights, and wonders whether the High Court decision will be announced in time for him to hear it.
Includes copies of birth certificate, 1943, and marriage certificate, 1959; photocopies of letters from Mabo's adoptive mother to Bonita Mabo, 1960; correspondence and telegrams relating to the denial of permission for Mabo to visit Mer, 1973-1974; handwritten lyrics by Mabo in Meriam Mer and English, 1982; documents regarding the Mabo family property in Townsville; four pencil sketches by Mabo of scenes in the Murray Islands, 1980 and 1986 [two of the sketches are large format and are located in folio]; and clippings and tributes written following Mabo's death in 1992.
The courses included the Aboriginal Task Force Program, South Australian Institute of Technology, 1983-1984; and a coastal navigation course at Townsville College of TAFE, 1991.
Includes job applications, personal résumés, references and correspondence.
The claims were for pay adjustments owed to his late fathers, Benny Mabo and Zezon Sambo, both of whom served with the Australian Army in World War II.
The letters are from Mabo to Bonita Mabo, before and after their marriage. They were mostly written while Mabo was working as a fettler near Hughenden. There is also a letter from Mary Tanna, grandmother of Bonita, and miscellaneous notes.
Correspondence, 1991-1992, papers concerning the death of Mabo, verse, and miscellaneous papers.
Verse, a Queensland Ambulance Transport Brigade certificate, correspondence 1987-1992 and other papers.
Correspondence 1986-1989, drafts, notes, vocabularies and other papers.
Includes rough notes and sketches for a home on Las, Murray Island (unbuilt).
Sony box, Fuji AG label, Sony tape
Consumer formats - VHS, S-VHS etc
Fuji AG E60
Commercial video by Film Australia
Some copies were supplied by Mrs Mabo and others were made from photographs in the Mabo Papers or Mabo-related collections.
Throughout the last 25 years of his life, Mabo often found it difficult to maintain long-term employment. Because of this, and because of a desire to be his own master, he became involved in a succession of family-based business and employment-creation ventures. While none of these was particularly successful, the last, Meriam Enterprises Pty Ltd, operated for some four years. The files in this series were created by Mabo.
See also Series 13 Folder 10 for papers relating to the involvement of Meriam Enterprises Pty Ltd in the 5th Festival of Pacific Arts, 1988.
This was a bêche-de-mer fishing venture incorporated in 1972. Documents include certificate of incorporation, correspondence, bank statements, rules and membership forms.
Includes membership lists and forms, and a financial statement.
This was a fishing venture incorporated in 1982. Papers include correspondence with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the firm's solicitors, brochures, papers relating to boats and refrigeration equipment, and documents relating to the firm's change of name to Meriam Enterprises Pty Ltd, 1988-1989.
Papers related to barges, boats and freezers and a funding application, Aboriginal Employment Development Policy, 1987.
Papers relating to a funding application for the Queensland Self-Employment Venture Scheme, promotional material, a budget and cash flow estimates.
Funding submissions and budgets, 1987, and papers relating to employees and equipment.
Membership register and market outlets for cray takes.
Papers relating to the thatched village project, and food catering for the 5th Festival of Pacific Arts. See also Series 13, Folder 10 for papers relating to the involvement of Meriam Enterprises Pty Ltd in the 5th Festival of Pacific Arts, 1988.
Miscellaneous loose papers, including correspondence, budgets, funding and loan applications, and projects.
Correspondence and other papers relating to boats and equipment, catch estimates and project proposals.
Funding submission to the Aboriginal Development Commission for trochus shell and crayfishing projects.
Papers relating to a proposed Building and Construction Unit, 1987. Loan application for a freezing plant on Mer, draft budgets and cash flow predictions, c.1988.
Draft funding submissions and cash flow predictions, 1989; an application for a trochus fishing licence, 1986; and papers relating to other marine projects.
Flyers, circulars, draft letters, a budget and cash flow predictions.
Rules, correspondence 1983-1987, and a grant application.
Draft goals, notes and a report of a visit to Mer Island.
Mabo was Director of this School, the first of its kind established in Australia, throughout the ten years of its existence. The School, which was an independent school funded by the Commonwealth, was forced to close in 1983 because the lease on its site had expired and the School was unable to secure an alternative site.
Roneoed and carbon copies.
'Black Community School Study' (26 sheets), 1977. 'Assessment of Achievement Levels of Children attending the Black Community School' by Margaret Reynolds (four roneoed sheets), 1976.
Correspondence and other papers relating to the acquisition of School land, 1981: and a newsletter, 'What's Going On at the Black Community School? Information for Parents and Friends' by the students and staff, 12 sheets, illustrated, September 1981.
Includes a draft proposal by E.K. Mabo for the establishment of the Magani Institute as parent organisation for the Black Community School and to act as a centre for the pursuit of Torres Strait Islander Studies (typescript) 1978; and correspondence and other papers relating to land, funding and other matters.
The papers relate to a proposal to establish a Black Community School on Mer, and funding.
The survey was canvassing opinions on Black Independent Schools such as the Black Community School, and other associated matters, including parent survey forms.
The Workshop was convened by the National Aboriginal Education Committee in Darwin, 1982. Includes a draft report edited by J.R. Budby containing a paper by Mabo which discusses the challenges involved in running the Black Community School. There are also papers relating to the Commonwealth Department of Aboriginal Affairs Area Advisory Committee, 1982-1983.
Includes a carbon copy of a completed Queensland Schools Commission survey form, 1982; and papers relating to the Commonwealth Aboriginal Councils and Associations Act 1976, 1983.
Correspondence relating to the School bus, 1983, and various papers relating to the languages and music of the Torres Strait.
The papers relate to funding and the closure of the School because of its inability to secure a site.
Includes a paper by Margaret Reynolds 'Description of an ethnic community school'; and a training program module for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Includes teaching materials, photographs and a publication, This is the Black Community School.
Wages book, 1976; class roll books, 1976-1982; and school register, 1976-1983.
This Association acquired houses in Townsville using Commonwealth funds and was responsible for renting them to black tenants. Mabo was President of the Association, 1975-1980. During the period 1978-1980, Mabo's presidency was contested by a group of disaffected members and evicted tenants who formed a new Board of Directors.
NB. In November 2001, with the agreement of Mrs Bonita Mabo, the papers in this series were transferred to the Yumba-Meta Housing Association in Townsville. Copies of the papers can be found on the microfilm of the original instalment of Mabo Papers which was made in 1996 (reels mfm G 27539-27549).
Articles of Association, 1973. Financial statements, year ended 30 September 1974. Contracts for houses, 1974.
Loan register, 1976-1977. Annual Financial Report, 30 September 1976. Cash receipts worksheets, 1975-1976.
Receipt book, 1978-1979. Membership applications, 1979.
Directors' reports to shareholders, 1977-1978. Annual General Meeting agenda, 1979.
Includes newspaper cuttings, minutes, notices and letters of termination of membership.
Board of Directors, 1979-80, plus circulars and correspondence with solicitors. Newspaper cuttings reporting friction between Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders within Yumba Meta, together with newspaper notices relating to the dispute, 1980.
The National Aboriginal Education Committee was set up to provide advice to the Minister of Education and the Department of Education on Aboriginal views on the educational needs of Aboriginal people, and to monitor existing policies and programs. Mabo became involved in this Committee through his work for the Black Community School, and was a Committee member between 1975 and 1978. Papers from this period do not appear to have survived. This Series documents Mabo's continued interest in the work of the Committee during the 1980s.
Proceedings of the Fifth National Aboriginal Education Conference, 1980 (91 pp). Aboriginal and Islander Community Worker Training Program, 'Field Project Reports', Townsville College of Advanced Education, 1981 (87 pp).
'NAEC Paper on Aboriginal Schools', roneoed, April 1982 (15 pp.). NAEC Conference report, Perth, July 1982, roneoed (6 pp). Draft discussion paper 'Man Power Planning: Preparing Aboriginal Teachers in Australia for the 1980s' by Vic Forrest, 1982 (13 pp). 'Aboriginal Studies: A Response to the Commonwealth Aboriginal Studies Working Group Report to the Australian Education Council' by John Lester, December 1982 (41 pp). Two issues of Ngali: School of Australian Linguistics Newsletter, 1982-1983.
'Strategies for Teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students in Queensland Schools', Queensland Department of Education, 1984 (18 sheets). Conference papers from the NAEC/JCU National Conference: Aborigines and Islanders in Higher Education: The Need for Institutional Change.
Progressive report of National Aboriginal Education Committee Conference recommendations, 1976-1980. National Aboriginal Education Committee paper on schools, 1982 (15 pp.).
Includes a proposal for an Aboriginal Institute for Education and Cultural Studies; an Institute of American Indian Arts catalog; and notes on Aboriginal leadership.
In 1982, Townsville College of Advanced Education amalgamated with the James Cook University of North Queensland. Mabo eventually decided not to become a teacher because he felt he was unsuited to classroom situations. Many of the essays in Folders 2-9 have a Torres Strait Islander focus and include grades and tutors' comments. Papers relating to other educational activities pursued by Mabo can be found in Series 2, Folder 2, and Series 12, Folders 3-5.
Administrative papers relating to enrolments, subject results and grants from the Aboriginal Study Grants Scheme, 1981-1984. Essay: 'Alternative Schools in Australia', 1981.
Art. Contemporary Australian Society.
Statement of academic record, 1985, correspondence, and assignments by Mabo.
In 1981, at a conference on indigenous land rights in Townsville, a decision was made to pursue a native land title claim for the people of the Murray Islands in the High Court of Australia. In 1982, Mabo and four other Islander plaintiffs instituted proceedings against the State of Queensland, claiming that their islands had been continuously inhabited and exclusively possessed by their people who lived in permanent settled communities. They acknowledged that the British Crown became sovereign of the islands upon annexation, but claimed continuous enjoyment of their land rights which had not been validly extinguished by the sovereign through the granting of freehold title or land leases to others.
The Queensland Government attempted to defeat the claim with the passage of the Queensland Coast Islands Declaratory Act 1985. In 1988, the High Court ruled this Act contrary to the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act 1975. In May 1989, the High Court remitted the land claim to the Queensland Supreme Court for hearing and determination of all issues of fact. In November 1990, Justice Moynihan of the Supreme Court delivered the Court's determination of the issues of fact. The case was argued for four days before the High Court in May 1991. The final decision was handed down in favour of Mabo on 3 June 1992. This decision overturned the 204-year-old legal doctrine of terra nullius, which held that the lands of the Australian continent were 'practically unoccupied' at the time of the proclamation of British sovereignty.
Further reading: The Mabo Decision, and the Full Text of the Decision in Mabo and Others v State of Queensland. Commentary by Richard H. Bartlett. Sydney: Butterworths, 1993. Mabo, a Judicial Revolution: The Aboriginal Land Rights Decision and Its Impact on Australian Law. Edited by M.A. Stephenson and Suri Ratnapala. St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1993. Mabo Papers. Department of the Parliamentary Library, Parliamentary Research Service. Subject Series no. 1. Canberra: AGPS, 1994.
Correspondence with solicitor Greg McIntyre, 1982-1989; and 'Plaintiffs' Statement of Facts Volume 1 with Annexures', 77 pp., spiral bound, 1984.
Includes printed items, a cutting, and papers by Paul Richards and Barbara Hocking.
Includes newspaper cuttings; receipts for Torres Strait Islander contributions to defray the costs of the court case; handwritten drafts recording Mabo's reactions to his dispute with Areag Dipoma over the ownership of land at Sebeg, which Mabo claimed belonged to his adoptive father, Benny; annotated photocopy from Coe v Commonwealth (1979) 24 ALR 118.
Includes maps of Mer showing traditional land ownership boundaries; annotated photocopies from Canadian Federal Court reports; Mabo family genealogies used in legal debates over Mabo's lineage and inheritance; a photocopy of an article by Anthony Wilkin, 'Land Tenure and Inheritance at Mabuiag'; and document entitled 'Current Report on Mabo and Others vs Queensland and Commonwealth' by Koiki Mabo, March 1986.
Includes correspondence with Murray Island Council; transcripts of court proceedings, February 1987; newspaper cuttings; applications for financial assistance with legal costs; copy of Nonie Sharp's 'Faces of Power in the Torres Strait Islands, the 1980s and the 1930s', a 30-page Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science (ANZAAS) Congress paper; and rough working notes.
Includes correspondence with Murray Island Council regarding the Dipoma/Sebeg land dispute; issue of Torres News, 26 May 1989; newspaper cuttings; Mabo's notes of the '50th Day', his summary of hearings before Mr Justice Moynihan on Mer; correspondence with Yarra Bank films regarding the documentary Land Bilong Islanders; genealogical notes; and an application for funding assistance with associated correspondence.
Includes articles on the proposed Cape York spaceport; newspaper cuttings; a circular letter by Mabo's daughter Maleta West, 1992, which criticises Murray Islanders for not supporting the case sufficiently; and various tributes to Eddie Mabo written at the time of his death.
Includes a map of Mer; a paper by Jeremy Beckett on ownership of land in the Torres Strait Islands; verse and songs about Mer; and notes by Mabo.
The notices (1985), which combine press cuttings and messages written by Mabo, call on Islanders to support the land rights case and oppose the actions of the Queensland Government. Photocopies of newspaper cuttings, 1988.
Located in Canberra, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies (later the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies) promotes and supports research into the cultures (both traditional and contemporary), languages, histories, and contemporary needs of Australia's indigenous communities. Mabo first became associated with the Institute in 1978 when, as Director of the Black Community School, he was appointed a member of its Education Advisory Committee.
Includes minutes, agendas, grant applications, reports, discussion notes and conference papers.
Includes circulars, correspondence, minutes, grant applications and evaluations of grant applications.
Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Bill 1989: copy of Bill with Explanatory Memoranda and Second Reading Speech.
The ABIS Community Cooperative Society was a Townsville-based Aboriginal and Islander cooperative housing association. Mabo was a Director of ABIS, 1986-1987.
Includes agendas, minutes, financial statements, Constitution and Rules [1974, amended 1983] and papers concerning allocation of housing.
Includes correspondence, minutes and drafts of letters and memoranda which outline Mabo's interpretation of the dispute.
During the late 1980s, Mabo attempted to gain election to the Murray Island Community Council. However because he had not lived on Mer since the late 1950s, his residential status was questioned and it was ruled that he was not eligible to nominate. Other papers relating to Murray Island Community Council can be found in Series 2, Folder 1, and Series 8, Folders 5-6.
Includes correspondence, election notices, rough notes and a Supreme Court of Queensland affidavit by Mabo, 1991.
During 1986-1987, Mabo participated in the Communication and Arts Management Scheme run by the Aboriginal Training and Cultural Institute. Through this Scheme he was appointed Assistant Director, Aboriginal Arts for the Melbourne Moomba Festival. Mabo claimed that his efforts ensured the first ever Aboriginal involvement in the Moomba Festival.
The 5th Festival of Pacific Arts, which took place in Townsville in 1988, was the first to be held in Australia. The Festival of Pacific Arts occurs every four years and is organised under the auspices of the South Pacific Commission. The 1988 Festival received funding from the Australian Government through the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Environment. Mabo was employed by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs as Community Arts Liaison Officer for the Festival, 1987-1988.
Magani Malu Kes is the name for the Torres Strait Islands in the language of the Torres Strait. The organisation Magani Malu Kes (MMK) was an organisation for Torres Strait Islanders which Mabo had incorporated as a public company in 1987. Of major concern to Magani Malu Kes was the way in which Islander interests appeared to be marginalised by those of mainland Aborigines when indigenous issues were considered by governments. As a consequence, Magani Malu Kes advocated Torres Strait Islander independence from Australia. Mabo was Vice-Chairman of MMK, 1987-1988.
Includes transcript of evidence, November 1988
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) was established by Parliament in March 1990 as the Federal Government's principal agency for administering Aboriginal Affairs. It replaced the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, which had been in existence since 1972, and the Aboriginal Development Commission. ATSIC is run by an appointed Chairperson and a Board of Commissioners who are elected by Aboriginal people from zones around the country.
In 1973 the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders Legal Services (Qld) Ltd was established as a non-profit making company to provide legal assistance to people of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island descent. Mabo was a director and in 1974 he became State President, but a vote of no-confidence in his presidency was carried in October 1974. For a few months in 1985 Mabo was a field officer with the Legal Aid Service in Townsville and most of the papers in this series relates to his training and work for the Service.
Publications include M.J. Unwin, Booran; a tale of early Australia (1960), Nonie Sharp, Torres Strait Islands 1879-1979; Theme for an overview (1980), Barbara Miller, The aspirations of Aborigines living at Yarrabah in relation to local management and human rights (1986), Paul Black, Aboriginal languages of the Northern Territory(1980) issues of The Aboriginal Child at School (1983-1989), Mili Mili (1972-1975), Yeperenye Yeye (1982-1985), Mikurrunya (1982-1983), Torres News (1988), and Report of the Interdepartmental Committee on the Torres Strait Islands (1988).