Country Always

Country Always

Caring for Country

A Corner of the Empire

A Corner of the Empire

The Garden Palace

The Holding Pen

The Holding Pen

The Agricultural Hall

Regional Networks

Regional Networks

Across New South Wales

A Museum of Doing

A Museum of Doing

Technological Museum

Transforming the Tramsheds

Transforming the Tramsheds

Powerhouse Stage 1 and the Harwood Building

A Symbol in Time

A Symbol in Time

Sydney Observatory

Ongoing Transformations

Ongoing Transformations

Powerhouse Ultimo

Applied Arts and Sciences

Applied Arts and Sciences

Defining the terms in the 21st century

Gail Mabo

Gail Mabo

Deed of Deposit

Powerhouse Renewal

Powerhouse Renewal

Sydney Science Festival

Sydney Science Festival

Across Sydney10—17 Aug
Exoskeleton

Exoskeleton

Powerhouse Parramatta

Blak Powerhouse

Blak Powerhouse

Powerhouse x We Are Warriors

Slider thumb2023
Stories

Gail Mabo

Deed of Deposit

First Nations communities are respectfully advised this story contains images and names of deceased persons.

Coinciding with the 30th anniversary of Mabo Day, the First Nations Directorate at Powerhouse was honoured to have worked with Gail Mabo to accept the care of two iconic shirts belonging to her father, the late Eddie Koiki Mabo.

A middle aged Meriam woman looking at a flat lay shirt. The shirt is blue with a white vertical pattern on it. The woman is wearing a turquoise jumper.

This shirt was worn by Eddie during the 1980s. He was frequently photographed wearing it when the High Court of Australia was sitting on Mer (Murray Island) to consider the land rights claim by the Meriam people.

Three men sit on a rug in vegetation just above a beach. They are looking at documents. There is a pack of cigarettes and a lighter on the rug and an audio boom above.

During the 1970s Eddie Koiki Mabo, a Torres Strait man from the island of Mer (Murray Island), was working as a gardener at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland. He became friends with historians Henry Reynolds and Noel Loos, and in conversation with them discovered the land he thought he’d owned on Mer belonged to the Crown. Britain had claimed sovereignty of the continent under terra nullius, a doctrine mandating that unoccupied land belonged to no one and could be acquired through occupation, which the British had done since their arrival in 1770.

On 20 May 1982, Eddie and his fellow Meriam (Murray Islanders) brought their case claiming legal ownership of their traditional lands to the High Court of Australia. Eddie drew maps indicating how the land on Mer was distributed among the local families under a system of law-based traditional ownership, which predated the arrival of Captain Cook. When the High Court went to Mer, he showed them the boundary markers of his land.

Ten years later, on 3 June 1992, the High Court ruled in favour of the Meriam, officially recognising them as the legal owners of their traditional homelands. Sadly, Eddie had passed away only months before. It was with the help of his hand-drawn map demonstrating native possession of Mer that Eddie challenged the concept of terra nullius. The Mabo Case, as it came to be known, paved the way for land rights legislation for Indigenous Australians.

The hands of a brown woman touching a colour shirt with a floral pattern.

This shirt was owned and occasionally worn by Eddie Koiki Mabo. It was lovingly made for him by his wife Bonita Mabo, along with a matching dress she wore on special occasions. The shirts will be cared for by Powerhouse, with full ownership retained by the family and community. This marks a significant shift in museum practice, ensuring First Nations people lead the ways in which culturally significant objects are cared for and managed.

Colour photograph of two small hilly islands, the nearest one has a sand spit on the left side and is surrounded by light turquoise water.

The Powerhouse acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the ancestral homelands upon which our museums are situated. We respect their Elders, past, present and future and recognise their continuous connection to Country.

CONTINUEInternal link