A painting of a man with black hair and beard on white background

The Mabo v Queensland (No. 2) decision was handed down in the High Court of Australia on 3 June 1992. ‘Mabo’—as it has come to be known—altered the foundation of land law in Australia. It provided official recognition of the inherent rights of Indigenous Australians to their traditional lands.

The National Library of Australia holds an extensive collection of material relating to the Mabo decision and to its lead applicant, Eddie Koiki Mabo. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Mabo decision, the National Library invited Gail Mabo, Eddie’s daughter, to select material for display to mark this landmark moment in Australian legal history.

The New Queen in Australia
Black and white photograph features Queen Elizabeth II, waving one hand in long white gloves,

Queen Elizabeth II became the first reigning British monarch to visit Australia when she stepped ashore at Farm Cove, Sydney on 3 February 1954. The Queen went to all state and territory capitals, excluding Darwin, allowing as many people as possible to see her at a range of functions, events and regional centres. Australians responded passionately to the young monarch, who ascended to the throne in February 1952; Her Majesty’s coronation took place on 2 June 1953. It is estimated that almost three-quarters of the Australian population glimpsed the Queen at least once during the 1954 royal tour, which was a mixture of politics, fashion and carnival. From the pomp and ceremony of opening federal parliament to massed public displays of affection, she left a lasting impression on those who took part.

A Special Book
An ornately handpainted book in red and orange colours stands next to a decorative box

In 2014 The Narrow Road to the Deep North (2013) by Tasmanian Richard Flanagan was awarded the Man Booker Prize (now known as the Booker Prize) for the best English-language novel. When he won, Flanagan was presented with this special edition of the book. He later donated it to a charity auction run by artist Ben Quilty. The successful bidder subsequently gave the book to the Library.

The Flower Hunter in Western Australia
Watercolour painting of banksia blooms and branches

Marian Ellis Rowan was an intrepid artist and naturalist, best known for her striking paintings of native Australian plants. Raised in Victoria, she travelled to remote parts of Australia and elsewhere hunting wildflowers to capture in watercolour. On display in the Treasures Gallery are some of the works that emerged from her visits to Western Australia in 1889 and 1906. These works are not exercises in natural history, but rather portraits of plants that express the artist’s passion for her subject matter. 

Bennelong's Letter
Letter written in cursive script on yellowing paper

This document records the earliest known piece of writing by an Indigenous Australian. The manuscript is the only contemporary copy of a dictated letter which appears to have been copied verbatim by an unknown scribe. The author, Bennelong, a leader of the Wangal people, and his young kinsman, Yemmerrawanne, became the first Indigenous Australians to travel to England in December 1792. During the trip, they both fell ill. Sadly, Yemmerrawanne died and Bennelong returned home alone in 1795. In this letter to Mr and Mrs Phillips Bennelong profusely thanks them for looking after him.

The Bard of the Bush
A photograph of Australian poet Banjo Paterson in side profile. He wears a hat and a suit jacket.

Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson is arguably Australia’s most celebrated poet. White settler culture and the bush were his subjects, the bushman his hero. A practising solicitor, Paterson began publishing poems in the popular journal The Bulletin under the pseudonym ‘The Banjo’, taken from a racehorse owned by his family. The popularity of his works led to the publication of his first collection of poems, The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses in 1895. Featuring in the Gallery is a display on Paterson and his contemporary Henry Lawson. 

Sir Thomas Mitchell’s Sextant

Sir Thomas Mitchell's Sextant

These surveying instruments belonged to Thomas Livingstone Mitchell (1792–1855) who was appointed Surveyor-General for New South Wales in 1828. At the time, the expansion of settlement had been hampered by the Survey Department’s inadequate equipment and by its failure to coordinate small surveys. Mitchell argued for importing better equipment and conducting a general survey of the colony. He also oversaw the creation of the colony’s first road network. Mitchell’s explorations led to the discovery of rich pastoral land, dubbed ‘Australia Felix’ (Latin for ‘Happy Australia’), in central and western Victoria.

Affable Alfred
A printed caricature-style drawing of Alfred Deakin from The Daily Telegraph. He stands in front of a long bench and is depicted with a disproportionately large head.

Alfred Deakin was a key leader of the Federation movement in Victoria. He held a number of senior positions in the Victorian government in the 1880s, including Solicitor-General, Minister for Public Works and Chief Secretary. In the 1890s he focused his energies on campaigning for Federation, serving as a delegate to the Constitutional conventions held in 1891 and 1897–98. He served a prime minister for three terms including 1903–1904, when he followed on from the retiring Edmund Barton, in 1905–1908 and finally 1909–1910. On display are portraits of Deakin and significant documents from his papers.

Cutty Sark

The Cutty Sark was one of the last of the great British clipper ships. Built in 1869 to transport tea back from China, it became the fastest ship transporting wool from Australia to Britain in the 1880s. In the 1890s steamships began to dominate the wool trade, and Cutty Sark did its last wool run from Australia in 1895. It is now preserved as a museum ship and is part of the Royal Museums Greenwich in London. This image of the famous clipper was believed to be painted by one of the crew on a piece of sailcloth from the ship. 

Fanny Durack's Olympic medal

Gold medal on white background

The 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden was the first Olympics to feature women's swimming. Fanny Durack and her close friend and competitor Mina Wylie were initially refused permission to compete, but were eventually allowed so long as they paid their own way. Durack went on to win the final of the 100-metre freestyle, setting a new world record and becoming the first Australian woman to win an Olympic gold medal for swimming.

Public Health Emergency
Large black writing on a light brown background reads "SOS" followed by instructions on how to seek medical attention whilst in quarantine.

In 1919 the global influenza pandemic reached Australian shores. Known colloquially as ‘the Spanish flu’, owing to early reporting of cases in Spain. Between 1918 and 1920, up to a third of the world’s population may have been infected, with perhaps over 50 million dying from the disease. Around 40 per cent of Australians were infected, with an estimated 15,000 deaths. In Australia a major public health response was launched which included advocacy of mask-wearing, education about hygiene and quarantine measures. Pictures and other records from the time, which are on display, parallel the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Joseph & Enid Lyons
Black and white photograph features a number of people and small children lounging on lawn outside The Lodge in Canberra

On display is the tender letter Joseph Lyons wrote to his wife, Enid, immediately after he was sworn in as the tenth prime minister of Australia. Both from Tasmania, they were a devoted couple. In 1933 Enid gave birth to their twelfth child; all but one of the children survived infancy. The family is pictured here in the grounds of the Lodge. In 1943 Enid was elected to office. She was both the first woman elected to the House of Representatives and the first to serve in a federal Cabinet.