Central Land Council chief executive Les Turner has paid tribute to the High Court judge who wrote the lead judgement in the landmark Mabo case.

Sir Gerard Brennan’s judgement recognised for the first time under Australian law that the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to their land according to their own laws and customs not only predated, but survived, settlement and continue to this day.

Mr Turner said Sir Gerard, who died on Wednesday, on the eve of the 30th Mabo anniversary, would be always remembered for the historic decision.

“We will never forget that Sir Gerard exposed the lie of Terra Nullius at the heart of Australia’s legal system,” he said.

“By the time he handed down the Mabo decision in 1992, he had heard many appeals brought by the enemies of land rights in the Northern Territory.”

Sir Gerard is being remembered as a brilliant and compassionate man who in retirement campaigned for social justice and advocated for a national integrity commission.

In his Mabo judgement he wrote “It is imperative in today’s world that the common law should neither be, nor be seen to be, frozen in an age of racial discrimination”.

“The fiction by which the rights and interests of Indigenous (people) in land were treated as non-existent was justified by a policy which has no place in the contemporary law of this country.”

Mr Turner paid his respects to the family of Sir Gerard on behalf of the CLC. “I hope his children take comfort in the knowledge that thirty years on, their father’s judgment continues to set precedence in our continuing fights for our land.”