The Timeline in Brief

June 29, 1936

Born on Mer (Murray) Island in the Torres Strait.


Left Mer Island and moved to mainland Australia. Worked several jobs in North Queensland, living mostly in Townsville.


Courtship with Ernestine Bonita Nehow (Bonita). Married 10 October 1959.

1962 – January 21, 1992

Engaged in active community service in the spheres of politics, trade unions, Indigenous Australian rights and services, and public events.

1969 – 1975

Employed as a gardener at JCU and formed friendships with academic staff. Was an active JCU Library user researching non-Indigenous views of his land, people and culture.


Discovered he did not have legal title over his land on Mer Island during a discussion with JCU historians Noel Loos and Henry Reynolds.

August 1981

Spoke at a conference about land rights in the Torres Strait at JCU. Decision made to take the Murray Islanders’ case to court.

May 20, 1982

Land rights case launched. Eddie Mabo is the first plaintiff in a group action.

December 8, 1988

The High Court ruled in Mabo v Queensland (No.1) that the Queensland Coast Islands Declaratory Act 1985 (Qld) was incompatible with the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth).

January 21, 1992

Eddie Koiki Mabo passed away.

June 3, 1992

The High Court overturned the legal doctrine of terra nullius ‘land belonging to nothing, no one’ delivering a verdict in favour of the Murray Islanders in Mabo v Queensland (No. 2).

November 22, 1992

Posthumously awarded the Australian Human Rights Medal.

June 3, 1993

Eddie Koiki Mabo’s tombstone is opened (unveiled) after the observed time of mourning according to Mer culture, and 3 June is established as “Mabo Day”. The next day (4 June), vandals desecrated the tombstone, prompting the decision to relocate the grave from Townsville to Mer.

January 26, 1993

Recognised by The Australian newspaper as the 1992 “Australian of the Year”.

May 21, 2008

JCU Library, Townsville, is officially named the Eddie Koiki Mabo Library.


Mabo, the film directed by Rachel Perkins, is released in the 20th anniversary year of the 1992 Mabo decision.


Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences names a star after Eddie Koiki Mabo.


JCU celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Mabo decision, and the annual Eddie Koiki Mabo Lecture Series lecture is delivered by Professor Megan Davis.


Bonita Mabo awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters by James Cook University in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the community.


The Eddie Koiki Mabo Timeline interpretive wall is installed in the Eddie Koiki Mabo Library.


In recognition of his legacy, as well as his campaign to improve the rights and wellbeing of his people, Eddie Koiki Mabo is posthumously awarded an Honorary Doctorate from JCU.


JCU marks the 30th anniversary of the Mabo decision, and the lecture for the annual Eddie Koiki Mabo Lecture Series is delivered by Stan Grant.


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