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Collection Summary

Creator: Mabo, Eddie, 1936-1992
Title: Papers of Edward Koiki Mabo
Date Range: 1943, 1959-1992 (bulk 1972-1992)
Collection number:MS 8822
Extent: 5 m. (28 boxes + 2 folio boxes + 1 folio)



Scope and Content

Edward Koiki Mabo was born in 1936 on the island of Mer, one of the Murray Islands, which are located at the eastern extremity of Torres Strait. In June 1992, six months after his death, Mabo achieved national prominence as the successful principal plaintiff in the landmark High Court ruling on native land title. The High Court ruling, for the first time, gave legal recognition to the fact that indigenous land ownership existed in Australia before European settlement and that, in some cases, this land tenure was not subsequently extinguished by the Crown. Lawyers, plaintiffs and Murray Islanders gathered for the land claim case, Mer, 1989 L-R: Jack Wailu, Greg McIntyre, Father Dave Passi, Eddie Mabo, Brian Keon Cohen, Bai Day, Dam Passi.

Before the land rights case, which lasted over ten years, Mabo had accumulated over 20 years of experience as an indigenous community leader and human rights activist. Throughout this period, he and his wife, Bonita, reared nine children while often experiencing lengthy periods of unemployment. The Mabo Papers document many of his activities, including his involvement in a number of family-based business and employment-creation ventures; his establishment of the Black Community School in Townsville, the first institution of its kind in Australia; his interest and involvement in indigenous arts; his involvement in a number of indigenous health, housing and education related boards, associations and committees; and his support for Torres Strait Islander independence and self-determination. The Papers include material on the land claim case, a number of personal documents, job applications, and some song lyrics. In the later years of his life, Mabo kept diaries; some of these (1976, 1985-92) are preserved in the Mabo Papers.

Included in the Mabo Papers were a number of audiotapes of oral history interviews conducted with Mabo by Professor Noel Loos of James Cook University. These tapes have been added to the Library's Oral History collection.


When the Library took delivery of the initial instalment of Mabo Papers, they consisted of a mixture of labelled files and loose papers. Files created and identified by Mabo have been retained and located in their appropriate series. In some cases, where papers were clearly misfiled, file contents were rearranged by Library staff in consultation with the Mabo family. Loose papers have been arranged into series in thematic and chronological order by Library staff. Readers can identify files created by Mabo as these have been kept in their original folders and stored in the Library's numbered acid-free folders. The guide published by the National Library in 1995 is a record of the content and organisation of the original instalment.

A further instalment of papers, contained in five boxes, was acquired from Bonita Mabo in November 2002. Apart from a diary (1981) and publications, the papers were mostly in folders created by Mabo. They were seldom titled. In subject-matter they overlapped to a considerable extent with the original papers and they have therefore been added to the existing series, with one new series (17) being added. This instalment included many publications and printed ephemera and they have been placed in Series 18. The current guide supersedes the 1995 guide. The original (1995) guide is available to researchers upon request.

In 2001 the Yumba-Meta Housing Association requested the transfer of the papers in Series 5 and, with the agreement of Mrs Mabo, the Library acceded to this request. The description of this Series has been retained in the revised guide. Copies of the papers can be found on the microfilm of the original instalment of Mabo Papers which was made in 1996 (reels G27539-27549).


The collection is part available for research; part requires permission for research. Not for loan. Series 2, Folder 7 requires permission for research.


An initial instalment of papers of Eddie Mabo was acquired by the Library from his widow, Bonita Mabo, in 1994. A further instalment was acquired from the same source in November 2002.

Copying and Publishing

Copying and publishing of unpublished manuscript material is subject to copyright restrictions. For such material, written permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s). Copying of unpublished material for research purposes is permissible 50 years after the death of the creator of the material.

Related Material

Other material relating to the Mabo land rights case are held in the Manuscript Collection in the papers of Bryan Keon-Cohen at MS 9518.

The papers in the original instalment of the Mabo collection have been copied onto microfilm (mfm G 27539-27549) which is held in the Newspaper and Microform collection. Due to minor alterations to the original arrangement of the papers in 2006, the series and folder numbers on the microfilm may differ to those in this finding aid. The original finding aid is available to researchers upon request.

The Oral History collection holds a number of sound recordings of interviews and lectures by Eddie Mabo at TRC 3504.

Artworks by Eddie Mabo are held in the Pictures Collection and can be accessed via the Library's catalogue.

Preferred Citation

Items from this collection should be cited as '[Title or description of manuscript item], Papers of Edward Koiki Mabo, National Library of Australia, MS 8822, [series and/or folder number]'.


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