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The Mabo Case Manuscripts

In June 1992 the High Court of Australia, in its judgement in the Mabo Case, overturned the doctrine of ‘terra nullius’, that Australia was an empty land owned by no one at the time of European colonisation. The judgment unleashed profound change in Australia’s legal landscape, and influenced the status and land rights of its indigenous peoples and race relations in Australia generally. It is an extremely rare instance in world history of pre-existing customary law being recognised as superior to the law of the invading culture, regardless of the economic and political implications. The Mabo papers, dating from 1959-1992, are significant for their documentation of a crucial period in the history of race relations in Australia, featuring a series of battles and legal cases over the ownership and use of land, growing awareness of racial discrimination, and the social and health problems of indigenous peoples. The issues discussed in the papers have a bearing on the rights of both Indigenous peoples and the descendants of European settlers throughout Australia. The papers are also significant as documenting much of the life, experiences and thoughts of Edward Koiki Mabo, a man who was not widely known in his lifetime but whose name is now a household word around Australia. The Mabo Case Manuscripts were inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World International Register in 2001.

Inscription Number: #2

Year of Inscription: 2001

Physical Location: National Library of Australia

Mabo documents

Loui Seselja, Mabo documents 24/4/2001

Photo reproduced by permission of the National Library of Australia

a photograph of manuscripts and books