The Enduring and Expanding Myth of Mabo

Some may remember from 30 + years ago (or can easily find online) the much expressed statement from Aboriginal activists, that:

We Don’t Own The Land; The Land Owns Us!”

That statement conveyed the timeless spirituality of the Aboriginal people and their intrinsic connectedness to Country; a relationship that non-Aboriginals do not have and never will have.  As such, it was also much touted by environmental activists of the Green Left as the only true way to live on this planet.

That profound heart-felt expression of timeless Aboriginal culture, which was much revered and respected by the Left, seemed to disappear from memory overnight when the High Court of Australia handed down its 1992 decision in Mabo v Queensland (No.2), and was soon replaced by:

Always Was, Always Will Be, Aboriginal Land!”

This new slogan conveys the same reverence, profound spirituality and ancient Aboriginal truth and knowledge as the discarded old one, even though it would appear to be saying the complete opposite of what was once held to be a timeless and immutable truth!  As a non-Aboriginal, I find it hard to understand the shift in paradigm, and can only cynically surmise that it was the Native Title concept recognised by the High Court that is behind the new timeless expression of Aboriginal culture and relationship to Country.

The popular conception of Mabo, as told by the Aboriginal activists and the progressive Left, is that it falsified the doctrine of Terra Nullius (land without people), which supposedly was the legal fiction that the British used to justify colonisation, and instead recognized, at least in effect, Aboriginal sovereignty over land. But neither of these two things was declared in the Mabo decision!  What Mabo actually said, was that Australian Common Law recognises a form of native title in cases where it has not been extinguished, and stated in the decision’s third order that the Court:

(3) declare that the title of the Meriam people is subject to the power of the Parliament of Queensland and the power of the Governor in Council of Queensland to extinguish that title by valid exercise of their respective powers, provided any exercise of those powers is not inconsistent with the laws of the Commonwealth.

No guessing where the sovereignty lies!

In other words, native title is a form of land ownership, similar to freehold title, existing with communities that can demonstrate that they have lived continuously on a certain area of land prior to British Settlement. In effect it is not dissimilar to that of a squatter, homesteader or leaseholder being granted freehold title.  Native Title is, of course, not the same as sovereignty, and like freehold title, does not apply to the minerals under the ground and can be resumed by the Crown if it is deemed in the national or state interest to do so, such as in the case of building roads, pipelines, harbours or airports.  Sovereignty is not ceded by the Crown when Native Title is recognised.

The fiction of Mabo grows in the imagination of the activists, who believe it was a milestone on the inexorable journey towards restoration of Aboriginal independence and sovereignty. 

The next milestone being approached is the referendum to bring recognition of Aboriginal “first nations” to the Australian Constitution, the establishment of the permanent “Voice” in the Federal Parliament, and the “Treaty”.  This 30th anniversary of Mabo is ramping up a new drive towards these aspirations, and the Ngunnawal people have taken this opportunity to make their claim of ownership over the ACT and adjoining land in NSW!

11 thoughts on “The Enduring and Expanding Myth of Mabo

  • rosross says:

    Quote: That statement conveyed the timeless spirituality of the Aboriginal people and their intrinsic connectedness to Country; a relationship that non-Aboriginals do not have and never will have. As such, it was also much touted by environmental activists of the Green Left as the only true way to live on this planet.

    A statement rendered as the farce it is by a visit to any Aboriginal community, where will be found, cesspits of environmental vandalism beyond imagining and a violation of country which would not be tolerated in any other Australian. Ah, the irony.

    Only the Greens are stupid enough not to realise that no-one wants to live a stone-age hunter-gatherer life anymore and the reason it had a light footprint is because it was stone-age.

  • cbattle1 says:

    I just had a search for “Mabo Day” on the internet, and I came across an informative article from SBS News:

    “Today marks the 30th anniversary of Mabo Day. Here’s what it is and why it matters

    Mabo Day commemorates Torres Strait Islander Eddie Koiki Mabo and his role in overturning the “terra nullius” declaration – which claimed that Australia was once land belonging to no-one.
    Friday 3 June 2022 marks 30 years since the landmark decision by the High Court of Australia to overturn the doctrine of ‘terra nullius’ – or “land belonging to no one” – which was declared at the time of European colonisation.

    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples occupied the land, spoke their own languages and had their own laws and customs long before the British arrived in 1788, and ‘terra nullius’ was an attempt by colonisers to give legitimacy to their dispossession of First Nations people.”

    Who am I to doubt the veracity of SBS News?

  • restt says:

    All 7 High Court judges in the Mabo decision concluded that Australia, irrespective of the original presence of the Aboriginal people, was a territory acquired by SETTLEMENT.

    Sir Anthony Mason, in a very rare stance for a High Court judge outside the Courts decision, explained that the Mabo decision was not about the doctrine of terra nullius; it dealt with ‘another question altogether: does the common law (as applied in the Australian colonies) exclude altogether the rights of the indigenous people …? And 6 of the 7 High Court justices managed to find Native Title in Australia where it did not exist previously.

    The problem was so not much in this new creation of Native Title [which realistically had been extinguished by the Act of annexation by the Crown] – but in the Racial Discrimination Act which since 1975 now apparently prevented the extinguishment of native title which up until that point of time was entirely legal – the fantastic unintended consequence of legislation.

    So the now the Torres Strait Islands, under their own flag, with their own administration is private land – millions of dollars of tax payer dollars are needed to keep the community viable – you can’t go there without permission – an island group where people will never be able to pay for themselves, or have jobs and fund the amenities of western life which they clamor for. The first of the Blak States funded by everyone else…. and the TSI flag strangely fly’s proudly over our Nations Capital just to prove the point that they are the victors.

    Something has gone very, very wrong

  • Brian Boru says:

    I presume that the first humans to arrive in Australia were followed by others. That the whole 350,000 here when Cook arrived did not come in one canoe or one march.
    I wonder if the first groups to arrive were entitled to say to the following groups of arrivals that they (the first arrivals) were the original owners?
    It seems to me that if they did not claim ownership that they then acquiesced to successive arrivals having equal rights. And so on and on until modern times.
    If I am correct, then modern day, so called First nations people who claim ownership are perpetuating a falsehood in an endeavour to impose apartheid for selfish gain.
    All the BS slogans they might spout do not change that. That does not alter the fact that modern settlement might have been handled better.
    But I believe in dealing with the here and now, not trying to rewrite history.

  • Macspee says:

    How and why Mabo had anything to say about aboriginal Australia is, to me, a mystery. Mabo lived on an island where, along with many other Pacific Islands, people or families ‘own’ their land. It makes sense where land is limited but not where land available is unlimited.

  • rosross says:


    You said: All 7 High Court judges in the Mabo decision concluded that Australia, irrespective of the original presence of the Aboriginal people, was a territory acquired by SETTLEMENT.

    My understanding is that if Australia had been invaded and not settled that Mabo and Native Title would be extinguished. Perhaps we need to support the now commonly held belief it was invaded.

  • Stephen says:

    Eddie Mabo was a Torres Strait Islander, not an Aboriginal. Torres Straight Islanders are very clear about the distinction and don’t want to be lumped in with mainland Aboriginals, This is why the old ATSIC was called ATSIC. I remember back in the eighties the great rugby league player, Mal Meninga, getting quite upset when and interviewer referred to him as a Aboriginal. Mal corrected the interviewer pretty firmly and Mal’s a very imposing physical specimen so the interviewer was suitably chastened,

  • Tricone says:

    Two truths:
    1. I too remember “We Don’t Own The Land; The Land Owns Us!” and noticed the complete contradiction backflip with “stolen land” “I acknowledge the ownership of this land by Geoff Murray and his mates, whoops, I mean ‘the recently-applied name’ people”
    2. Like 99.99% of Australians, I had never heard or read the term “terra nullius” before Mabo. It was not the doctrine under which the modern country of Australia was founded.

  • gilmay97 says:

    In looking at our nation’s history we see a sad disinterest in historical research and record by governments, who prefer to let the older ones with historic knowledge, the researcher’s, and writers put their words forward knowing they are limited in their distribution, and without officiation, sanction and recognition, on their passing their words will disappear in the voids of time — leaving only the often untruthful sanitized version and obvious gaps of deletions on record to mislead future generations. What if Hitler had won the war and we were forced to read his version of history – after a few decades of teaching such, school students now in teaching, academia, bureaucracy, government, and industry would be compliant to the false history and associated laws.
    Already the words and records of history are being quietly deleted and overridden by false opinion to suit official narrative of only one race ever occupying Australia, with personal opinions that do not conflict with fanciful belief and land title claims.
    Was this to assist a quick history change, where ‘The Australian Curriculum’ clumps together Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders, two very different genetic races, separate cultures and people, the Islanders have a long history of a well-structured society of villages, both communal and private family food gardens, fishing techniques, being traditional seafaring people with regular travel between islands, with high employment and achievement.
    Torres Strait Islanders are of Melanesian descent the same as the people of Papua New Guinea sharing cultural traits and customs. The Melanesian history goes back about 3,000 years diverging to a mix of Papuan and an ancestral line from the Lapita people of about 30,000 years.
    They should not be linked in any way by legislation to aboriginals whose ancestral line is primitive and unrelated (see early recorded history near the end), such is totally wrong by anthropology, history, ancestry, and DNA — it is another part of the aboriginal fraud instigated by the ‘more-European- than-aboriginal-people’ modernists.
    National Geographic wrote years ago Australian Aboriginals are ‘The world’s last remaining Stone Age people’, we were taught that at school in the days of honest education. They did not know pottery, metals, bow and arrows, animal traps; they had no gardens, permanent villages, and were not seafaring people, living a very basic hunter gatherer lifestyle. As already shown by mtDNA they migrated from India 4,230 years ago: Sharing two basal synonymous mtDNA polymorphisms G8251A and A9156T with the M42 haplogroup, shared exclusively between Indian and Australian aborigines — “These particular mutations do not exist anywhere else in the world; they are shared exclusively between a few isolated ancient tribes in India and Australian aboriginals” (Quote: Prof Dr Satish Kumar). The migration from India is proved, and the lies disproved – they are not and never were the nation’s first people. Some of differing opinion point to current northern aboriginals having limited gardens, agreed, but they are modern people many of part Islander descent and learning.

    These are two very different people and cultures that should not be linked together. Skilful unscrupulous manipulation and deception is being used by many claiming aboriginality to link the earlier different races of dark-skinned people that previously occupied Australia, as their ancestors — they are not even related.
    The Mabo Land Rights decision which related to a claim made by the late Eddie Mabo of the Meriam people of the Murray Islands and related ONLY to the Murray Islands and their people.
    They were deliberately linked to aboriginal land rights so they could ride on the facts presented in the Mabo case, even though they did not have the same power or strength of legal argument as all aboriginal lands were custodial only in traditional law.

    A copy of the High Court of Australia 3 June 1992 Mabo ruling. Source: SBS News Makes good reading.
    By including aboriginals, the government had a future pathway for converting crownland to saleable freehold title, there was no other way this could be done without massive public protest. By issuing titles they could force massive payments from mining or pastoral companies to offset aboriginal public expenditure, but it does not appear to have reduced aboriginal public expenditure, only making some groups wealthy. Obviously, land titles are the catalyst for more people to claim aboriginality.
    This also became a vehicle to lift the status of a people whose use of stone tools and a stick, even though it was their highest technology, became a liability — the history ‘deniers and changers’, the ‘race-shifters’ and ‘box-tickers’ demand ‘stone-age’ not be used as their descriptive — honest facts worry them. The reason appears that the high numbers of people with other genetics claiming aboriginality want to elevate their status — maybe if they want to align with their minority genetics, they should be prepared to accept their ancestral ‘stone-age’ status — or align with their majority genetic ancestors and accept a different status and refuse financial benefits designed for aboriginal people?
    As always life is full of choices — many take the most profitable one, for the least effort — irrespective of honesty.

  • whitelaughter says:

    well spoken Brian Boru

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