* BY: SARAH ELKS, NORTH QUEENSLAND CORRESPONDENT From: The Australian June 01, 2012 12:00AM 9 comments * Increase Text Size
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Eddie Mabo fought and won a 10-year battle on land rights. Source: Supplied GAIL Mabo was a teenager when her father Eddie, a proud Torres Strait Islander, sat her down and promised her: "One day, my girl, all of Australia is going to know my name." It was 1985. Three years earlier, the man from remote Mer Island at the top of Australia launched a bold land rights claim in the High Court, and his middle daughter was sceptical of the outcome. "Being 15, you think, 'Yeah, whatever, Dad'," Ms Mabo told The Australian yesterday. "But on the day of the High Court judgment in 1992, it came down and it was fact. I cried and said, 'Dad, you were right'." It was 20 years ago this Sunday that the court delivered its landmark ruling, forcing the recognition of indigenous native title. With that, the fiction of terra nullius - that Australia belonged to no one when first claimed by the British - was overturned.
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The course of Australian history and law was changed. Since then, there have been 141 native title declarations, covering at least 16 per cent of the nation. But Eddie - or Koiki, as he preferred to be called - Mabo did not live to see justice done. He had died of cancer four months earlier, and for his daughter, the loss is still raw. "Twenty years isn't but a dot," she said last night from Canberra, before opening a celebration of the judgment's anniversary. Memories of Mabo are vivid for historian Henry Reynolds, who met the young activist in Townsville in the 1960s. Their...