After the gains of the 1960s and 1970s, the 1980s saw a gradual withdrawal away from Indigenous land rights. State and Commonwealth governments drew back from pursuing more legislation or granting land rights because of the lack of popular support in many areas of the country. The fear of losing at the polls began to take over from the idea of progress in the sphere of Indigenous rights. This changed again in 1992 with the High Court judgement on the land mark Mabocase. Eddie Mabo was an Indigenous inhabitant of the Murray (Mer) Islands in the Torres Strait. He led a group of the Meriam people in a Supreme Court challenge against the Queensland government on the issue of land ownership. Their case stated; 'Since time immemorial the Torres Strait Islands of the Mer (known as Murray), Danar and Waier and their surrounding seas, seabeds, fringing reefs and adjacent islets have been continuously inhabited by people called the Meriam people' The Queensland government reacted to the land rights claim by passing theQueensland Coast Islands Declaratory Act 1985 (Qld) which said that the Torres Strait Islander rights and claims had been extinguished in 1879 when the islands came under the rule of the Queensland government. It was a futile move to stop the Mer people's claim and in 1989 it was overruled as it contravened the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth). The case then came to the High Court of Australia – the highest court in the country. In the High Court the Meriam people claimed continuous connection with their land. This was despite the fact it had been declared a possession of the New South Wales Colony in 1797 and then annexed by the Queensland government in 1879. The Queensland government said it had saved the Indigenous people of the Murray Islands from 'barbarism' and that the Crown had assumed all rights to the land in 1879. This assertion, however, was undermined by the fact that in 1913 the Queensland government had bought land from the...
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