|On 3 June 1992 the High Court of Australia delivered its judgment in the case of Mabo v the State of Queensland (No. 2), holding that the common law of Australia recognised native title. The term 'native title' was used by the High Court to recognise that Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders may have existing rights and interests in land and waters according to traditional laws and customs and that these rights are capable of recognition by the common law.|
Specifically, the Court recognised a claim by Eddie Mabo and others on behalf of the Meriam people of the Island of Mer in the Murray Islands in the Torres Strait, that the Meriam people owned the land at common law because they were the traditional owners of their country under Islander law and custom.
The Queensland Government had earlier tried to extinguish the Meriam people's property rights under the Queensland Coast Islands Declaratory Act 1985. However, the High Court ruled in 1988 (Mabo v the State of Queensland (No. 1)), that the Queensland law breached the Commonwealth's Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth).
The Mabo judgment addressed some of the basic premises of the Australian legal system and society. In particular, the decision overturned the concept of terra nullius (a land belonging to no one) on which Australia's whole land tenure system had been based. The High Court recognised that the rights of Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders to native title may survive in certain areas and that their native title must be treated fairly before the law with other titles.