Australians are waking up to Eddie Mabo’s face this morning as Google marks what would have been his 80th birthday.
The browser’s homepage is dominated with a commemorative doodle of the Indigenous land rights campaigner which is framed by his island home in the Torres Strait.
Mabo, who died in 1992 at age 55, was the key force in abolishing ‘terra nullius’ laws under which the British claimed possession of all Australian land.
In the 1980s, Mabo launched an historic legal claim for ownership of traditional land on his home of the Island of Mer (Murray Island), in the Torres Strait.
In 1992, ten years after the matter was first brought before the High Court of Australia and five months after Mabo’s death, the case was ruled in his favour with the recognition of the traditional rights of his people over their land.
As a result of the case, the legal doctrine of ‘native title’ was added into Australian law meaning it would thereafter extend to all Indigenous people in Australia who held land rights under their own laws prior to the establishment of British colonies.
Mabo was posthumously recognised with the Australian Human Rights Medal as recognition for his and his fellow plaintiffs’ “long and determined battle to gain justice for their people”.
While his tireless campaign for land rights is what the history books focus on, Mabo was also instrumental in a number of initiatives that fought for Indigenous rights both in Queensland, where he moved in 1959, and the country at large.
Mabo was a founding member of Townsville’s Aboriginal and Islander Health Service and went on to went on to co-found and direct the first black community school in the city after becoming increasingly frustrated with the State Government’s approach to Indigenous education.
He was also an activist for the 1967 referendum which succeeded in removing two racist statements in the Australian constitution.