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Eddie Koiki Mabo Timeline

Accompanying website for the Eddie Koiki Mabo Timeline inside the Eddie Koiki Mabo Library, James Cook University

January 21 1992

Koiki passes away after a long illness, just months before the case is decided. Koiki is buried in Townsville, and later reburied on Mer in a traditional burial ceremony. 

June 3 1992

History is forever changed in Mabo No 2. The High Court rejects the legal doctrine of terra nullius and rules in favour of the Meriam plaintiffs’ ongoing title to their land. 

The Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Robert Tickner said: “the process of reconciliation has been formulated to keep faith absolutely with Indigenous peoples’ aspirations and to open up the potential for a substantial evolution in Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations” (At the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations in Geneva, 28 July 1992). 

Mabo plaintiffs and Keon-Cohen Koiki Mabo and the continuing plaintiffs, Reverend David Passi and James Rice, with lawyer Bryan Keon-Cohen in 1989
© Yarra Bank Films

Bryan Keon-Cohen called Mer Island to break the news, "A lady answered the phone, I broke the news to her, she screamed and yelled and threw the phone away and disappeared down the street yelling the news to the community" (Keon-Cohen, as cited in Gordon, 2012, para. 7).

November 22 1992

Eddie Koiki Mabo, Reverend David Passi, Sam Passi, James Rice and Celuia Mapo Salee are awarded the Australian Human Rights Medal. 

Human Rights Awards recipients, 1992. L-R: Barbara Hocking, James Rice, Bonita Mabo, Dave Passi, Ron Castan.
Image Courtesy of Barbara Hocking.


"The 1992 Human Rights Medal was awarded to the Murray Islanders who were the plaintiffs before the High Court in the Mabo case. Ms Barbara Hocking was named co-winner of the Human Rights Medal in recognition of her work with the Mabo case and other work she had been involved with to gain legal recognition for indigenous people's rights."

Australian Human Rights Commission 


December 10 1992

Prime Minister Paul Keating presents the statement at the Australian launch of the International Year for the World's Indigenous People at Redfern.

Prime Minister Paul Keating identifies the Mabo decision as recognition of historic injustice on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“It begins, I think, with that act of recognition. Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing” (Keating, 1992, p. 393).

A meeting of Aboriginal representatives, ministers and Prime Minister Paul Keating, 27 April 1993, discussing the Mabo decision.
The painting is a work by Mr W. Rubuntja, who was also present at the meeting
© Courtesy of the National Archives of Australia. NAA: A13966, 930538


January 26 1993

Front Page Australian Newspaper 26 January 1993

The Australian 26 Jan 1993

The readership of Australia’s national newspaper names Koiki as the Australian of the Year (1992), recognising the significant impact of his life and work.

The reputation and readership of The Australian newspaper was different to today. The newspaper was widely distributed and read across the country and it was the readership who nominated candidates for the award, with the Editor making the final selection. In the same year Mandawuy Yunupingu,educator and lead singer of acclaimed Australian band Yothu Yindi, was the winner of the award from the National Australia Day Council. Both these men were recognised in a year which was also the United Nations International Year of the World's Indigenous People.


January 1 1994

The Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) formalises recognition of native title in Australia.

We acknowledge the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first inhabitants of the nation and acknowledge Traditional Owners of the lands where our staff and students, live, learn and work.Acknowledgement of Country

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