Where Was Eddie Mabo Born: The Torres Strait Islander Edward Koiki Mabo was a prominent advocate for Indigenous land rights in Australia, and he was instrumental in a landmark decision by the High Court of Australia that overturned the legal doctrine of terra nullius (“nobody’s land”) that had characterized Australian law with regard to land and title for hundreds of years and officially recognized the rights of Aboriginal Australians to own and use the land on which their families had lived for millennia.
Sambo was born on Mer (Murray Island), in the Torres Strait between Australia and Papua New Guinea, on June 29, 1936, to Eddie Koiki Sambo and Margaret Sambo. Robert Zezou Sambo and Annie Mabo had raised him as their son.
In the aftermath of his mother’s death during delivery, he was adopted by his mother’s brother, as was the norm at the time. After being adopted by his uncle Benny Mabo, he changed his name to Eddie Koiki Mabo to better reflect his newfound fame.
He attended elementary school on Mer, where he received an introduction to the English language. He was banished to the mainland by the elders when he was sixteen years old because of a love entanglement with one of the women.
Bonita Neehow, a South Sea islander who had been his childhood love, proposed to him in 1959 when he was 23 years old. They moved in Townsville, Queensland, where they had seven children and adopted three more – Gail, Wannee, Eddie Junior, Bethal, Celuia, Ezra, Mal, Mario, Malita, and Maria Jessie – as well as Gail’s younger brother, Eddie Junior.
He held a variety of jobs, including working on a pearl boat, as a cane cutter, and as a train conductor.
In addition to working on pearling boats, Mabo has also had positions as a sugar cane cutter and as an engineer on railways. At the age of 31, Mabo began working as a gardener at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland.
Eddie Koiki Mabo persevered in his pursuit of the case, despite his personal devastation, and was successful in his appeal to the High Court of Australia.
However, even though he would take time off to unwind by working on the boat or painting watercolors of his island home, the pressure eventually took its toll on his health after a ten-year period.
Koiki Mabo passed away in January 1992 as a result of cancer. He was fifty-six years old at the time of his death. Approximately five months later, the High Court issued its landmark judgment, which overturned the legal fiction of terra nullius (‘no-land’), man’s which the British had proclaimed before claiming Australia more than two centuries earlier.
Eddie and Bonita Mabo founded the Black Community School in Townsville in 1973, so that students may learn about their own culture rather than white culture, rather than vice versa. The time Mabo spent on the campus had a significant effect on his life after he graduated. In 1974, he was speaking with historians Noel Loos and Henry Reynolds from James Cook University, and Loos remembers the conversation as follows:
In the years 1967 to 1971, he worked as a gardener at James Cook University, located in Townsville, Queensland, Australia. He liked listening in on seminars and going to the library to get some reading material to read. He was also asked to give lectures to students on a variety of topics, including race and culture.
Eddie Mabbo, a Torres Strait Islander community leader and land rights campaigner, was born on June 29, 1936, in Las, on Mer, in the Murray group of islands, Queensland, to Murray Islands-born parents Robert Zesou Sambo, a seaman, and his wife Annie Poipe, née Mabo. Eddie is the fourth surviving child of Robert Zesou Sambo and his wife Annie Poipe, née Mabo, who were both born in the Murray Islands.