Mer Island (also known as Murray Island), is a small island of volcanic origin, populated by the Melanesian Meriam people and situated in the eastern section of Torres Strait.
The people of Murray Island speak Torres Strait Creole and Meriam and the island has a population of around 450 people.
There are eight Mer (Meriam) tribes:
The organisation of the island is based on the traditional laws of boundary and ownership.
Mer Island is a basaltic island formed from an extinct volcano, which was last active over a million years ago when the Indo-Australian Plate slid over the East Australia hotspot.
The island rises to a plateau 80m above sea level. The highest point of the island is the 230m Gelam Paser, the western end of the volcano crater. The island has red fertile soil and is covered in dense vegetation.
Westerners began to settle on the island in 1872 when the London Missionary Society founded a missionary school there.
Murray Island's most famous resident was trade unionist, Eddie Mabo, whose decision to sue the Queensland government in order to secure ownership of his land, which had been removed from his ancestors by the British colonial powers using the terra nullius legal concept. This ultimately led to the High Court of Australia, on appeal from the Supreme Court of the State of Queensland, issue the "Mabo decision" to finally recognise Mabo's rights on his land on 3 June 1992. However, Mabo himself died a few months before the decision.
This decision continues to have ramifications for Australia.
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