Pacific News Minute: Australian PM Visits Grave of Indigenous Land Rights Warrior

Aug 27, 2015

Eddie "Koiki" Mabo
Credit Leigh Blackall / Flickr

The government of Australia relocated to a remote island in the Torres Strait this week, as Prime Minster Tony Abbott made good on his promise to spend a week every year in an indigenous community to learn more about the issues faced by Aboriginals and Torres Straits Islanders...more from Neal Conan, in the Pacific News Minute.

Prime Minister Abbott made an important gesture to Australia's indigenous peoples, when he laid a wreath at the grave of Eddie Koiki Mabo, whom he called a "warrior".

Born on Mer Island, Mabo was working as a gardener at a University in Queensland where he mentioned to two professors that he wanted to end his days back home on the ancestral land handed down through his family for 15 generations.  The scholars told him that under Australia's policy of Terra Nullius, he didn't own the land…the state did.

When colonists first arrived in Australia, they ignored indigenous land rights and declared that land belonged to no one.  In Latin, Terra Nullius.  Outraged, Mabo educated himself, became an activist and filed the suit that overturned the policy in 1992...five months after his death from cancer.  As a practical matter, the High Court decision only releases a small percentage of land to claims by Aboriginal peoples and the Melanesians of the Torres Strait Islands but, as Prime Minister Abbott said at Mabo's grave, "Good on him for having a go, and ultimately good on our system for being able to accommodate Eddie Mabo and the other plaintiff's cry for justice."

The Prime Minister has pledged to hold a referendum by 2017 that could recognize Aboriginal People and Torres Strait Islanders as First Australians in the country's constitution.