Australia

Australian PM makes historic visit to Mabo's grave

Mr Abbott places his hand on the headstone of Eddie Mabo Image copyright AAP
Image caption Mr Abbott described Mabo's home island of Mer as "a special place"

Tony Abbott has become the first Australian prime minister to visit the resting place of Indigenous land rights campaigner Eddie Koiki Mabo.

The prime minister is in the Torres Strait as part of an election promise to spend one week each year in a remote Australian Indigenous community.

During his stay, Mr Abbott said he would be focussing on education, health and border security in the Strait.

On Monday, he laid a wreath on Mr Mabo's grave on Mer Island.

Mr Mabo died in 1992 just months before his 10-year legal battle for native title rights proved successful.

Image copyright AAP
Image caption Eddie Mabo (left) and Jack Wailu at home on Mer in the Torres Strait Islands in 1990

In what became known as the "Mabo case", the High Court rejected the accepted doctrine that Australia was terra nullius - "belonging to nobody" - at the time of European settlement.

Under the Native Title Act, passed in 1993, claimants can apply to have their native title recognised by Australian law.

Prime Minister Abbott told reporters at a press conference on Mer, also known as Murray Island, that Mr Mabo was a "warrior".

Image copyright AAP
Image caption Mr Abbott says there is nothing like being "present" in a region to learn about it

"Not simply a strong man physically, but a strong man culturally and spiritually, who decided that he would take on the legal establishment," said Mr Abbott.

"He would take on the previously settled view of Australian law, and good on him for having a go, and ultimately good on our system for being able to accommodate Eddie Mabo and the other plaintiffs' cry for justice," he said.

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