Naming the Eddie Koiki Mabo Library


While Eddie Koiki Mabo’s association with James Cook University was well known at the university, it was not marked or celebrated beyond the inclusion of a memorial cenotaph located on the campus grounds in Townsville (now known as the Bebegu Yumba Campus). The story of Koiki’s time at the university and the role the library and history department played in the development of his case was also less well known outside of the university. When Sandra Harding, as the incoming Vice Chancellor, learned of the story when she saw the cenotaph located on the campus, she wanted to more formally acknowledge Mabo’s achievements and his connections with JCU. As he was known for spending time at the library, it was decided to name the library building (which did not previously have a name) the Eddie Koiki Mabo Library.


May 21, 2008

During his time working at James Cook University, Eddie Koiki Mabo frequently visited the JCU Library. It was at the library that he began undertaking research for his case, and the grounds surrounding the library still contain many of the trees and plants planted by Mabo. In 2008, the university chose to honour Mabo’s legacy and recognise and celebrate the connection between Mabo and the library by naming the building in honour of him.

On May 21, 2008, the library building on the Townsville campus was officially named the Eddie Koiki Mabo Library. The naming ceremony was attended by several dignitaries and honoured guests, including Bonita and Gail Mabo and other members of the Mabo family, the Honourable Jenny Macklin MP, and James Birrell, the architect and designer of the University campus plan (including the original Library building).

Gail Mabo and JCU VC Sandra Harding sitting with Koiki’s memorial on the Townsville campus of JCU. Image by Brian Casey. All rights reserved.

As part of the preparation for the naming of the library, the memorial cenotaph for Eddie Koiki Mabo was situated outside the southern entrance of the library building. The stone-mounted plaque features a bas-relief of Koiki’s portrait as featured on his tombstone, and also bears the same inscription. The inscription on the front reads:

Mabo Memorial Inscription

In memory of Eddie Koiki Mabo

Born Murray Island 29-6-1936
Died 21-1-1992
Aged 56 years

Loving husband of Bonita
Devoted father, father-in-law grandfather, brother brother-in-law, uncle and friend

He was a known and respected member in local,
state and national organisations.
His involvement in black affairs dates back to
the early 1960’s. The most important one was the
Murray Island Land Claim known as the “Mabo Case”
He put so much of his strength, his inspiration,
his fighting spirit and his wisdom into the case,
which has profound significance, not only for
the Murray Islanders, but also for the Torres
Strait Aboriginal people and Indigenous people

“A Meriam man of Piadaram Clan”

Always loved.

The naming ceremony was opened by Bindal Traditional Owner Gracelyn Smallwood, who has spoken of Eddie Mabo encouraging her to spend more time in the library when she was a student at JCU.

Bindal Traditional Owner, Gracelyn Smallwood welcomes guests to country at the naming ceremony 2008 © Rob Parsons / Through The Looking Glass Studio 2008. Image courtesy of JCU.
Gail Mabo speaking at the naming ceremony © Rob Parsons, Through The Looking Glass Studio 2008. Image courtesy of JCU.
Honoured guests unveil the name plaque outside the library
Honoured guests officially name the Townsville Library, Eddie Koiki Mabo Library. Pictured from left: Former Chancellor, Lt Gen Dr John Grey AC, JCU VC Sandra Harding, Gail Mabo, Hon. Jenny Macklin MP, Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Bonita Mabo. © Rob Parsons, Through The Looking Glass Studio 2008. Image courtesy of JCU.
This plaque commemorates the offical naming of the Eddie Koiki Mabo Library
The plaque officially naming the Eddie Koiki Mabo Library © Rob Parsons, Through The Looking Glass Studio 2008. Image courtesy of JCU.
2 Torres Strait Ilander dancers outside the library at the naming ceremony
Dancers Ses Bero and George Dow perform at the naming ceremony © Rob Parsons, Through The Looking Glass Studio 2008. Image courtesy of JCU.
Library Director Heather Gordon, Gail Mabo, James Birrell, and JCU Vice Chancellor and President Sandra Harding pictured outside the newly named Eddie Koiki Mabo Library © Rob Parsons, Through The Looking Glass Studio 2008. Image courtesy of JCU.

As part of the celebrations, The Land I Own, a painting by Gail Mabo, was purchased by JCU to be permanently associated with the library.

Gail Mabo, The Land I Own, 2008. Acrylic on canvas [3 panels]. Purchased by JCU to celebrate the official naming of the Eddie Koiki Mabo Library in 2008, this artwork commemorates Eddie Koiki Mabo’s struggle to have native title recognised and the legal concept to terra nullius overturned. Painted by Koiki’s daughter, Gail Mabo, the artwork is displayed permanently in the Eddie Koiki Mabo Library at JCU’s Townsville campus. © James Cook University. Image courtesy of JCU.


On the tenth anniversary of the naming of the library, a special Eddie Koiki Mabo Library Art Exhibition was held, called “10 Years”. It featured work from the artists who had been part of every exhibition since the naming of the library.


Eddie Koiki Mabo: History in the Making Copyright © by James Cook University Library. All Rights Reserved.