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Mabo Day 2020

MABO DAY - Wednesday 3rd June - 28th Anniversary

On the 3rd June 1992, the High Court of Australia ended the legal fiction the Australian continent and the islands surrounding Australia were owned by no one – TERRA NULLIUS. When Australia was invaded and colonised on the 26th January 1788, the British colonisers acted as if the land was uninhabited. Over 60,000 years of civilisation was swept away in an orgy of destruction that resulted in the violent dispossession of peoples who had a long and productive association with the land and the seas surrounding the land. For 204 years successive Australian governments acted as if the lands they had stolen legally belonged to them while the original inhabitants, who had survived the colonisation process, were ignored, marginalised and legally discriminated against.

In 1982 three traditional land owners from the Island of Mer in the Eastern Torres Strait, Eddie Koiki Mabo, Father Passi and Grandfather Rice, set in train a series of events that began in the Queensland Courts and ended in the High Court of Australia that overturned the doctrine that Australia was unoccupied (terra nullius) at the time of the British invasion. The High Court of Australia on the 3rd June 1992 ruled that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander interests in land and water survived the assertion of sovereignty by the Crown.

The judgement caused consternation among Australian land owners. It didn't take long for the spirit and the letter of the judgement to be buried in bucket loads of extinguishment by successive Federal Governments.

Twenty eight years after the High Court judgement gave Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders rights to land in law, the question of sovereignty, the extent of native title and a need for a treaty between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians continues (despite attempts by successive Federal governments to bury the issue) to be the single most important impediment to reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians in Australia in 2020.

Reconciliation Week is bookended by National Sorry Day and Mabo Day. In 2002 the late Ellen José, Chairperson of the Victorian Wongai Torres Strait Islanders Corporation (it is claimed in the Torres Strait that if a Torres Strait Islander eats the Wongai fruit before they leave the Islands, they will always return to the Islands), hosted at the Melbourne Town Hall one of the largest gatherings this country has seen, to mark the 10th Anniversary of the Mabo High Court decision. Since 2003, Ellen José organised a Mabo Day ceremony at Federation Square (in the face of state opposition on many occasions) to mark Mabo Day in Melbourne. Ellen died on the 2nd June 2017, on the eve of the 25th Anniversary of the Mabo High Court decision.

Ellen José was a proud Torres Strait Islander, she was proud of the contribution Torres Strait Islanders have made in the struggle to achieve reconciliation between this country’s first nations people and those who arrived since 1788 – based on justice, not charity. It was her express wish that her family and friends continue to organise events and activities to celebrate the gains made on the 3rd June 1992.


Spend a few minutes on Mabo Day remembering those whose sacrifices have put reconciliation on the national agenda.

Dr. Joseph Toscano / Convenor Ellen José Memorial Foundation

Ellen José Memorial Foundation
M: 0439 395 489
A: PO Box 59 Black Rock VIC 3193