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1

Who was Eddie Mabo?

- He was an Indigenous Australian who dedicated his life to fight for the land rights of his people.
- He was the fifth child of Robert and Poipe Sambo.
- He was born on Murray Island on 29 June 1936.
- His mother died shortly after he was born; was adopted by Benny and Maiga Mabo.
- 5 months prior to the High Court decision (which was in his favour), Mabo died on 21 January 1992.

2

Explain the High Court's decision in the Mabo case. How did the Commonwealth Parliament respond?

- The High Court decided that Eddie Mabo won the case by a majority vote of six to one, with Justice Dawson voting against Mabo.
- The decision found that under Australian law, Indigenous people have rights to land, that these rights had existed before colonisation and still exist (otherwise known as native title).
- This finding eradicated the principle of Terra Nullius from Australian law, as it was ruled that Australia was not empty/uncivilised when Captain Cook arrived in 1788.
- The case had a profound effect on the Commonwealth Parliament, as it sparked intense political debate.
- The Commonwealth Parliament responded by passing the 'Native Title Act' in December 1993 which ultimately confirmed the Mabo decision and established the Native Title Tribunal.

3

Explain the High Court's decision in the Wik Case. How did the Commonwealth Parliament respond?

- In 1996, the High Court ruled that native title rights could coexist with the rights of pastoralists (cattle and sheep farmers) on cattle and sheep stations.
- However, when in conflict, the pastoralists' rights would prevail over Indigenous Australians'.
- The High Court decided to allow pastoral leases to continue to form a part of Australian law because they were initially made to meet the needs of the pastoral industry.
- The Commonwealth Parliament responded by passing the 'Native Title Amendment Act (1998)', which contained a 19 point plan for native title.
- The plan effectively extinguished native title on pastoral leases, as well as on other types of landholdings such as Crown land, waterways and airspace.
- The Native Title Act is still being modified to this day to ensure the fair treatment of all Indigenous Australians ( to reverse the effects of Acts such as the Native Title Amendment Act).

4

Describe the conflicting attitudes towards native title that existed before and after the Mabo decision.

BEFORE
- The majority of white Australians believed that native title should not have existed partially due to the fact that they believed 'terra nullius' had existed, and also due to the prospect of admitting that the early settlers had mistreated the Aborigines (as well as continued mistreatment to this day).
- Consequently, Indigenous Australians managed to find their voice - specifically due to the influence of people such as Eddie Mabo and Charles Perkins (who took part in the Freedom Ride).
AFTER
- Sections of the mining and pastoral industries, and conservative politicians were outraged by the 1992 Mabo decision, attempting to (unsuccessfully)overturn the decision by way of legislation.
- In 2004, a survey found that almost 50% of respondents believed that Indigenous Australian land rights had gone too far (these people were typically of the working class background with fewer years of education).
- From 1996 to 2010, the proportion of Australian voters who believed Aborigines' land rights were excessive fell from 61% to 35%

5

What are rights? How did the Mabo case change the rights of Indigenous people?

- Rights are entitlements or permissions, usually of legal or moral nature. Rights are of vital importance in how people conduct their lives, and in the fields of law and ethics.
The Mabo Case changed the rights of Indigenous people by:
-> Allowing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who maintained a connection with their land to have a right to their land (through native title).
-> Causing future changes in the way the government recognised the land rights of Indigenous people, as well as the rights in general of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (National Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander Land Fund was established in 1993).