William Cooper (1861 – 1941) aboriginal leader
William Cooper as secretary of the Australian Aborigines’ League, formed by the Melbourne Aboriginal community, circulated a petition seeking direct representation in parliament, enfranchisement and land rights. He led the first Aboriginal deputation to a Commonwealth minister on 23 February 1935, and with members of the Aborigines’ Progressive Association, formed in Sydney in 1937.
William Cooper, Aboriginal leader, was born in Joti-jota tribal territory about the junction of the Murray and Goulburn rivers, fifth of the eight children of Kitty Lewis; his father was James Cooper, labourer. The Atkinson/Cooper family, with Kitty’s mother Maria, settled at the Mologa Mission established in 1874 by Daniel Matthews. William was one of many workers forcibly retained by the Moira and Ulupna station managers, and was later sent to the Melbourne home of Sir John O’Shanassy as coachman. He worked as shearer and handyman for pastoral employers for much of his life, because the Maloga Mission and the near-by government-funded Cumeroogunga Aboriginal Station required able-bodied men to earn wages to support their dependents.
The last of his family to be converted to Christianity, Cooper settled at Maloga in 1884, where he married on 17 June the orphaned Joti-jota Annie Clarendon Murri; she died in 1889, survived by one of their two children. Six more were born of his second marriage, at the Nathalia Methodist parsonage on 31 March 1893 to Agnes Hamilton (d.1910), born at Swan Hill and reared at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station near Melbourne. Their daughter Amy (Mrs Henry Charles) became matron of the first Aboriginal hostel established in Melbourne in 1959; their son Dan died in World War I; another son Lynch was a champion runner, winner of the 1928 Stawell Gift and the 1929 World Sprint. There was no issue of his third marriage, at Nathalia on 4 August 1928 to Mrs Sarah Nelson, née McCrae, of Wahgunyah and Coranderrk.
Cooper had attended adult literacy classes; he read widely and wrote a good letter. His family connexions and membership of the Australian Workers’ Union made him a spokesman for the dispersed communities of central Victoria and western New South Wales who were ineligible for any aid during the 1920s drought and the 1930s Depression. But officials ignored his complaints. In 1933, undeterred by age and deafness, he left Cumeroogunga to become eligible for the old-age pension, his only income for a campaign which lasted until his death: as secretary of the Australian Aborigines’ League, formed by the Melbourne Aboriginal community, he circulated a petition seeking direct representation in parliament, enfranchisement and land rights.
He led the first Aboriginal deputation to a Commonwealth minister on 23 February 1935, and with members of the Aborigines’ Progressive Association, formed in Sydney in 1937, led the first deputation to a prime minister (to ask for Federal control of Aboriginal affairs) on 31 January 1938. Although Commonwealth and three State authorities had refused co-operation, he had collected 1814 signatures from Aboriginals all over Australia by October 1937; but in March 1938 the Commonwealth declined to forward his petition to King George VI or seek the constitutional amendment necessary to legislate for Aboriginals or form an Aboriginal constituency.
Bitterly disappointed, Cooper spent his last years vainly protesting State government alienation of Cumeroogunga, Coranderrk and other reserves, still citing the rights of Maoris and Canadian Indians as an example for Australia. In November 1940 he retired to Barmah. He died, aged 80, on 29 March 1941 at Mooroopna, Victoria, survived by his third wife and six children. His grave at Cumeroogunga is unmarked; his main achievement was the establishment of a ‘National Aborigines Day’, first celebrated in 1940.
Yad Vashem pays tribute to Aboriginal activist William Cooper
Yad Vashem honored the “extraordinary act” of Aboriginal activist William Cooper, who led a rare individual protest against the Nazis in Australia. At a ceremony Sunday night in Jerusalem, a chair for the study of resistance, endowed by the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange, was established in tribute to Cooper, who died in 1941 at the age of 81. It marked the first time that Israel’s national memorial to the Holocaust honored an indigenous Australian. Cooper, the head of the Australian Aborigines League and an elder of the Yorta Yorta tribe, himself had no rights in his homeland in December 1938 when he marched to the German Consulate to deliver a petition protesting the “cruel persecution” of the Jews.
Complete article http://web.archive.org/web/20121203041856/http://www.jta.org/news/article/2010/12/13/2742141/yad-vashen-honors-aboriginal-activist-william-cooper
More on William Cooper from Yad Vashem: http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/search_results.asp?cx=005038866121755566658%3Auch7z5rmfgs&cof=FORID%3A10&ie=UTF-8&q=%22william+cooper%22&find=
2013 William Cooper Commemoration
A special function will be held to mark the 75th anniversary of the historic petition presented on 6 December 1938 by William Cooper, Aboriginal leader and political activist, to the German Consulate in protest against the Kristallnacht pogrom and the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews.
National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC)
Half a world away, sound of breaking glass found an echo
There were so many shattered windows that night in 1938 that the murderous Nazi attack on German Jews became known as Kristallnacht – night of broken glass, pictured right. The date was November 9 and it was an ominous indication of what Hitler had in store for the Jewish people. Half a world away in Melbourne, Aborigine William Cooper read in outrage about the brutality. Cooper, son of a white labourer and a Yorta Yorta Aboriginal woman, waited for the international protest that would surely follow but, to his astonishment, there was virtually none. Cooper, who had been fighting for Aboriginal rights for years with little success, felt an immediate affinity with the Jewish plight and what he did next has rung down the years for Jews and Aborigines alike.
The Book: Willian Cooper: Gentle Warrior, Standing Up for Australian Aborigines and Persecuted Jews
By Barbara Miller
This book is primarily about a pioneering Aboriginal Christian man called William Cooper of the Yorta Yorta tribe of the Murray River in south-east Australia.
Influential Australian aboriginal Christians
William Cooper’s grandson Uncle Boydie
In 1934, the nationally-recognised Aboriginal leader, William Cooper, started a petition for indigenous justice to the King George V. But the Prime Minister stopped it going to England. In 2014, his elderly grandson (Uncle Boydie) plans to take the petition to London and hand it to the Kings’s grandaughter: Queen Elizabeth II.
William Cooper’s great nephew Pastor Sir Douglas Nicholls https://atributetoaustralianchristians.wordpress.com/2010/10/22/douglas-nicholls
Nicholls publicly acknowledged his debt to Cooper in commenting to his biographer, Mavis Thorpe Clark: ‘William was the contact that brought me back to our people. Everything comes back to William Cooper – the hostels, the League – he fired me to follow through’. Nicholls became, as a result of these life experiences and his charismatic, confident personality, a key activist in the work to awaken a sense of responsibility among politicians and the public concerning Aboriginal disadvantage throughout Australia.
An associate of William Cooper Bill Ferguson
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