3 Life Lessons Mabo Taught Me

If you are an Australian, it is highly unlikely that you haven’t heard the name Eddie Mabo. Mabo Day. The Mabo Decision. 

Eddie Mabo passed away in 1992, when I was 4. He was a man that I never met and up until recently, didn’t know much about. So how could this man give me life lessons without us ever meeting? Let’s get to that soon but first lets quickly look into what Mabo is all about.

If you are anything like I was, you would recognise the name but that’s about it.

To be honest, it is actually a huge event in Australia’s history. The Mabo Decision is probably the most significant Aboriginal rights case to go through the High Court of Australia and come out victorious.

Eddie Koiki Mabo challenged the British claim that Australia was terra nullius (‘no-mans land’) which was made over two hundred years ago, just before they declared Australia as their own.

eddie mabo

On 3rd June 1992, 5 months after Mabo’s passing, the High Court ruled in favour of Mabo and his fellow plaintiffs. The claim of terra nullius became a legal fiction.

“…the decision that came out was that native title existed and it was up to the Aboriginal or Islander people to determine who owned what land.” Henry Reynolds.

Ok. I am going to stop right there. I know some of you just had an issue with that last part, particularly around the word ‘owned’. Let me give you my personal take on land rights and owning land.

I find that the paradigm of land ownership to be a little different between the westernised concept in comparison to the Aboriginal concept of it. Similarities between the two exist within the rights to make decisions for the land and the right to defend your land. The difference lies in the hierarchy of it. To put it simply, a general westernise way of thinking about land is that you protect the land against, pests, disease and invasion and you use and alter the land to farm in a way to support your existence. A general way that Aboriginal people see it is that you protect the land against pests, disease and invasion and you farm the land, by a way that is natural to that area and you use the land in a way that supports you and the lands continued existence.

As Yothu Yindi says, “We do not own the land. The land owns us”.

To me, it is not about our right to own land, it is about our right to protect that land. Our right to ensure that land is looked after in a way that will ensure its healthy, sustainable existence. It is a deeply imprinted sense of connection and responsibility that Aboriginal people feel to the land and not about having land as a possession.

Right. Now that’s been clarified, let’s get back to the life lessons Mabo has given me.

Here they are in no particular order:

1) A single person can make a difference and have a profound impact in the world. Of course, I acknowledge that Eddie had a team working with him but Eddie Mabo was the driving force.  The person with the belief and vision to see this through. Even though he was very disadvantaged in Australia. Even though he was part of a minority group. Even though he was receiving death threats. Even though he lived in a time where racism was entwined in everyday society and the government…

He. Made. A. Difference!

26 years after his passing, I am sitting here learning from him.

2) If my dreams of Aboriginal reconciliation, gap closing, equality and healing don’t come to fruition during my lifetime. It’s okay. It took Mabo 10 years to have the High Court rule in his favour and he wasn’t there to see it. After all, I’m not doing this for me. I am doing this for my children and for the future generations of Australia. I believe in something so strongly. Something that is much bigger than me, so I am taking the steps to give them something better. To give them something beautiful. And I am at peace with the possibility that I may not see it in my lifetime because I know in my core that it will happen.

Louise O'Reilly
Louise O’Reilly is doing her best to make the world better for her children

3) Just because something is, doesn’t mean that how it should be. This is a moto that has been with me for some time now. Mabo has provided me with another example why this is so true. After all, Eddie Mabo took this case to the High Court of Australia. He took something that stood as a so-called legal fact in Australia for over 200 years and had it overturned and pronounced a legal fiction. Oh, my goodness. 200+ years of people believing one thing and to have it completely discredited in 10 years is phenomenal.

Eddie Mabo decision terra nulius
The High Court of Australia ruled in favour of Mabo and his fellow plaintiffs. The claim of terra nullius became a legal fiction.

“Mr Mabo, I would like to pay my respects to you and your family. Thank you for standing up for something you believe in. Thank you for the lessons you taught me and for being one of the people that inspire me to follow my dreams and make a stand for what I believe in.”

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14 thoughts on “3 Life Lessons Mabo Taught Me

  1. Very well said. I hope that people take the time to read this and learn some important history of Australia.

    1. Thank you, Shane 🙂 There is quite a lot that people can gain from knowing our history and the people involved.

  2. Moorditj article!
    So nice to know you are learning from the stories of the giants before you!
    I have no doubt you will also leave a legacy that will continue to share wisdom and knowledge for generations to come.

    1. Never stop learning. Especially when we have these wonderful life-changing people to learn from. Serving and bettering the lives of others is the reason I do what I do. You’re only limited by your own mind. Remember that and thank you for your comment 🙂

  3. I was reading a book called Color by Victoria Finlay that talks about the origins of color, and I learned about “the ochre wars” in Australia. Cultures are translatable like language, but people are not always able to do so. Sounds like Mabo bridged the gap.

    1. He certainly did. Though not without many hurdles and struggles to go through himself.

      Thank you so much for your comment Laura!

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    1. Thank you so much Anjelica. I appreciate you saying that. I’m still learng how to use the website creator program but I am getting there.

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