The Institute Times

1992 - High Court overturns terra nullius, rules Native Title exists

Eddie Mabo with the plaintiffs and his barrister outside the High Court, QLD 1989.
From, Land Bilong Islanders, courtesy of Trevor Graham-Yarra Bank Films.

On 3 June 1992, the High Court of Australia overturned the 200 year-old legal belief that Australia was 'terra nullius' prior to English settlement. 'Terra nullius' is a legal term used to describe land not belonging to anyone.

The main plaintiff, Mr Edward Koiki Mabo commenced proceedings in the High Court in 1982, in response to the Queensland Amendment Act 1982 establishing a system of making land grants on trust for Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. Mr Eddie Mabo and the other plaintiffs feared they would lose their native title to their lands, Murray (Mer) Island in the Torres Strait.

Six of the seven High Court judges in an historical judgement delivered on 3 June 1992, accepted Mr Eddie 'Koiko' Mabo and the other claimants claim that the Meriam people had occupied the Island of Mer for hundreds of years before the arrival of the British. They found that the Meriam people were entitled as against the whole world to possession, occupation, use and enjoyment of lands in the Murray Islands.

Sadly, Mr Mabo succumbed to cancer in January 1992, just months before this historic decision was handed down.

Source: Pyrrhic victory for most Aborigines - The Canberra Times Thursday 4 June 1992 p1 Trove

The Torres Strait Islander flag

1992 - Torres Strait Islander flag adopted

The Torres Strait Islander Flag was created as a symbol of unity and identity for Torres Strait Islander peoples, designed by the late Bernard Namok from Thursday Island.

It was the winning entry from a design competition held as part of a Cultural Revival Workshop, organised by The Islands Co-ordinating Council in January 1992. The flag was recognised by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission in June 1992 and given equal prominence with the Aboriginal flag.

In July 1995, it was recognised by the Australian Government as an official 'Flag of Australia' under the Flags Act 1953.


1993 - Native Title Act 1993 passes - New Year heralds start of new land claims process

1994 - First year of the International Day of the World's Indigenous peoples

1994 - Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia published

Cover of Encyclopedia of Aboriginal Australia, Volume 1 A-L. General Editor David Horton. Published by Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies

The Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, society and culture, was published by AIATSIS' publishing arm, Aboriginal Studies Press in 1994.

Edited by David Horton and containing some 2000 entries and 1000 photographs, the encyclopaedia covers all aspects of Indigenous Australians' lives including history, art, language, sport, education, archaeology, literature, land ownership, social organisation, health, music, law, technology, media, economy, politics, food and religion.

In a glowing review written for the Canberra Times Art section, Helen Musa interviewed David Horton.

Having been struck by the encyclopaedia with its attractive cover and format signalling 'modern Aboriginal Australia' and not 'academia' or 'museum', I was curious as to what kind of imaginative mind lay behind this publication which has already seen 500 copies going into disadvantaged schools via the NSW Department of Education, with the rest selling like hot cakes.

Horton hoped that the image of Aboriginal culture, society and history which is shown in 'the first post-modern encyclopaedia would prove a three-dimensional one'.

Source: A three-dimensional portrait – The Canberra Times Sunday 25 December 1994 p16 Trove

1995 - Australian Government announces the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children

Nova Peris playing hockey
Courtesy of the Australian Sports Commission.

1996 - First Aboriginal Australian gold medal winner at the Olympic Games

Nova Peris becomes the first Indigenous Australian to win an Olympic gold medal as a member of the victorious Australian women's hockey team, the Hockeyroos in Atlanta.

1996 - First National Reconciliation Week

The beginning and end dates of National Reconciliation Week 27 May to 3 June coincide with two significant dates in Australia's history.

On 27 May in 1967, Australia's most successful referendum on the Australian Constitution was held, where more than 90% of Australian people voted to give the Commonwealth power to make laws specific to Indigenous people, and to allow for Indigenous people to be counted in the census.

On 3 June in 1992 the High Court of Australia the High Court of Australia overturned the 200 year-old legal belief that Australia was 'terra nullius' prior to English settlement. 'Terra nullius' is a legal term used to describe land not belonging to anyone in the Mabo case.

1997 - Bringing them home tabled in Federal Parliament

Cover of the Bringing them Home report, National Enquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from them families.
Courtesy of the Human Rights Commission.

On 26 May 1997, the Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families was tabled in Federal Parliament.

The report was the result of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families. The report brought to light the extent of forcible removal policies which had existed in Australia in one form or another for more than 150 years and as late as the 1970s.

After campaigning for several years for the inquiry, Aboriginal organisations and community members wanted it to expose the truth behind the Stolen Generations. Close to 800 submissions were received revealing the terrible effects the policies had and continues to have on generations of Indigenous Australians.

Source: National Sorry Day Committee Inc.

1997 - Patrick Dodson dubbed 'Father of Reconciliation' at the Australian Reconciliation Convention in Melbourne

1997 - Our Culture, Our Future report into the protection of Indigenous cultural and intellectual property published

Our Culture: Our Future, Report on Australian Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property Rights by Terri Janke.
Courtesy of Ms Terri Janke.

The Our Culture, Our Future report was written and researched by Ms Terri Janke, Solicitor and Principal Consultant of Michael Frankel & Company, solicitors under contract with AIATSIS and funded by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Comission (ATSIC). It was developed to create practical reform proposals for the improved recognition and protection of Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property.

Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property Rights are Indigenous Australians rights to their heritage. According to the report, heritage consists of the intangible and tangible aspects of the whole body of cultural practices, resources and knowledge systems developed, nurtured and refined by Indigenous people and passed on by them as part of expressing their cultural identity.

The report stemmed from a number of concerns, including wider Australians taking Indigenous arts and cultural expression and marketing it as integral to the Australian identity without permission, appropriating language for use as business names without permission and appropriating biodiversity knowledge for commercial gain.

Source: Frankel Lawyers

1998 - ANTAR launches Sorry Books

1999 - Federal Parliament passes motion of reconciliation expressing deep and sincere regret for the forcible removal of Aboriginal children


That this House:

  1. reaffirms its whole-hearted commitment to the cause of reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians as an important national priority for all Australians;
  2. recognising the achievements of the Australian nation, commits to work together to strengthen the bonds that unite us, to respect and appreciate our differences, and to build a fair and prosperous future in which we can all share;
  3. reaffirms the central importance of practical measures leading to practical results that address the profound economic and social disadvantage which continues to be experienced by many indigenous Australians;
  4. recognises the importance of understanding the shared history of indigenous and non-indigenous Australians and the need to acknowledge openly the wrongs and injustices of Australia's past;
  5. acknowledges that the mistreatment of many indigenous Australians over a significant period represents the most blemished chapter in our national history;
  6. expresses its deep and sincere regret that indigenous Australians suffered injustices under the practices of past generations, and for the hurt and trauma that many indigenous people continue to feel as a consequence of those practices; and
  7. believes that we, having achieved so much as a nation, can now move forward together for the benefit of all Australians.

Source: Parliament of Australia

2000 - UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination criticises Australia’s response to the Bringing Them Home report