3 June 1992

Australian Aboriginal land rights are recognised in Mabo v Queensland (No 2), a case brought by Torres Strait Islander Eddie Mabo which led to the Native Title Act 1993 overturning the long-held colonial assumption of terra nullius.

Mabo v Queensland (No 2) (1992) is a landmark case in Australian law in which the High Court of Australia recognized the land rights of the Meriam people, traditional owners of the Murray Islands in the Torres Strait. The case was brought by Eddie Mabo, a Torres Strait Islander, along with other plaintiffs, who challenged the long-standing legal doctrine of terra nullius (meaning “land belonging to no one”), which underpinned European claims to Australia.
Key Points of the Mabo Decision:

Overturning Terra Nullius: The High Court’s decision in Mabo v Queensland (No 2) rejected the concept of terra nullius, acknowledging that Indigenous Australians had established societies with their own laws and customs prior to European settlement.
Recognition of Native Title: The court recognized the existence of native title, the traditional rights of Indigenous Australians to their land, which had survived the assertion of British sovereignty.
Native Title Criteria: The decision established that native title could be claimed if a group could prove continuous connection to the land according to their traditions and customs.

Native Title Act 1993:

Following the Mabo decision, the Australian Parliament passed the Native Title Act 1993 to provide a legal framework for recognizing and protecting native title. The Act:

Established Processes: Set out the processes for claiming native title and resolving disputes.
Validation of Acts: Provided for the validation of certain past acts that might have affected native title.
Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs): Allowed for agreements between native title holders and others about land use.


The Mabo decision and the subsequent Native Title Act 1993 represent a significant shift in Australian land law, acknowledging the traditional rights of Indigenous peoples and providing mechanisms for the recognition and protection of these rights. The case has been instrumental in the broader movement towards reconciliation and recognition of Indigenous Australians’ historical and cultural connections to the land.