The History of the Native Title Act

Pioneer: Eddie Mabo

The Land Rights Act for the Northern Territory was passed in the Federal Parliament in 1976, but this was only a law for Aboriginal people living in the Northern Territory. The other states and territories missed out.

In 1982 Eddie Mabo complained to the High Court that Queensland didn’t recognise that indigenous people had a system of law and ownership before British settlement.

Eventually a decade later in 1992, the High Court ruled that indigenous traditional title to the land had survived British settlement and it was called native title. As a result, Mabo’s people, the Meriam, had native title rights over their islands.

The decision meant that native title could survive anywhere in Australia so long as:

  • Indigenous people had maintained Aboriginal law and customs on that land.
  • No other titles allowing ownership of that land had extinguished (or finished) the native title.