National Reconciliation Week ends, commemorating Mabo Day
National Reconciliation Week is held each year from the 27th of May to the 3rd of June and commemorates two significant events in Australian history – the 1967 Referendum and Mabo Day. Reconciliation week aims to educate Australians about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, and promote reconciliation between the broader Australian community and the Indigenous peoples of Australia.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples having been living in Australia, and practicing their own laws, languages and cultures, for over 65,000 years. When the British arrived in 1788, they brought with them their own system of law, administration and cultural practices. Their vision of settlement was based on the doctrine of terra nullius, or ‘land belonging to no one’. This justification for settlement was used in spite of contact with Aboriginal peoples since Cook’s landing. No treaty or agreement for land use was made.
In 1982, a group of Meriam people from the Torres Strait Islands challenged the concept of terra nullius through the Australian court system. Eddie Koiki Mabo, Reverend David Passi, Celuia Mapoo Salee, Sam Passi and James Rice argued that the Meriam people held ‘native title’ over their traditional land on Murray Island (also called Mer). Ten years later, in 1992, the High Court of Australia overturned terra nullius and upheld the Meriam people’s native title claim, recognising for the first time that Indigenous Australians had rights to their traditional lands.