James Unaipon (1835 – 1907) Aboriginal leader
Rev George Taplin described him as ‘a steady Christian . . . a nucleus around which those who were impressed by divine truth would rally’. Unaipon’s marriage on 27 July 1866 to Nymbulda, a Karatindjeri clanswoman and daughter of the traditional Yaraldi leader Pullum (‘King Peter’), was the Point McLeay Mission’s first Christian wedding. His fourth child was David Unaipon – the man on our $50 note.
James Unaipon was born at Piwingang, a Murray River lagoon (west of present-day Tailem Bend), South Australia. His clan was the Wunyalkundi, of the Potawolin language group, part of the Ngarrindjeri confederation. The black swan, Kungari, was his totem. During the boy’s childhood his family moved to nearby Wellington, which became a focus for Ngarrindjeri and European interaction in the 1840s. As a youth, he absorbed his people’s traditions through initiation, ceremony and tribal fighting, losing an eye in a spear fight. Bearded and 5 ft 7 ins (170 cm) in height, he was taller than most Ngarrindjeri.
Initially he adopted the name James McPherson, after a Wellington publican for whom he probably worked. In 1861 he was baptized by the Scottish Free Church missionary James Reid as his first Christian convert. Taught by Reid (whose surname he then adopted), he became one of the first Ngarrindjeri to read and write. The two James Reids sailed in the missionary’s small boat to Aboriginal camps along the Murray, in the lakes and to the Coorong, South Australia. After Reid drowned in Lake Albert in July 1863, George Taplin considered training the missionary’s assistant as his own evangelist. Arriving at Raukkan, Point McLeay Mission in 1864, intending to ‘work and improve himself in reading, writing’, James became known as Ngnunaitpon, his Potawolin name, later anglicized as Unaipon.
Taplin’s attempts to erase traditional initiation, sorcery and burial rites faced dogged resistance from tribal elders, and Unaipon’s support was influential. The missionary allowed him to begin ‘scripture readership’ among lakeside camps, supplying him with a boat for this purpose in 1869 and paying him a wage. The results were mixed, as Taplin’s moral code was rigid and Unaipon’s privileged status was often resented. But Taplin later described him as ‘a steady Christian . . . a nucleus around which those who were impressed by divine truth would rally’. Unaipon’s marriage on 27 July 1866 to Nymbulda, a Karatindjeri clanswoman and daughter of the traditional Yaraldi leader Pullum (‘King Peter’), was the mission’s first Christian wedding. The union, a victory for Taplin, cemented James’s status in his adopted community. He and Nymbulda were to have nine children, the fourth being David Unaipon. Their surviving children all attended the mission school.
Aside from his evangelical role, James had special status. Reid’s sponsor Henrietta Smith of Dunesk, Scotland, corresponded with Unaipon, whom she regarded as her own convert. Having earlier purchased land for South Australian Aborigines, she transferred this interest to Point McLeay mission in the late 1860s. She also paid for a small stone cottage for Unaipon and a writing desk, and vested a lifetime annuity of £100 in his name. In translating Christian gospels into the Potawolin language and as an ethnographic informant, Taplin relied heavily upon Unaipon, whose contributions underpinned the former’s publications.
In 1871 Unaipon was appointed the first Ngarrindjeri church deacon, assisting Taplin to administer the sacrament. His advocacy of literacy—as much as the traditional tendi (inter-clan forum)—helped to underpin the increasing demand by Ngarrindjeri church councillors for a greater role in mission affairs. Until 1879 Unaipon continued to undertake lengthy evangelical tours to outlying Ngarrindjeri camps, walking 120 miles (200 km) or more. He also worked in the mission school as an assistant teacher, cook and librarian, and as shepherd, boatman, labourer and rabbiter until ill health forced his retirement in the late 1880s. He then became reliant upon the small annual interest from his annuity. When the mission’s funds were embezzled in 1892 the authorities agreed to pay him an equivalent allowance.
Complete article : http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/AS10470b.htm
James Unaipon (or Ngunaitponi), father of David, was an early convert to Christianity who was elected the first Ngarrindjeri deacon of the church at the Raukkan (Point McLeay) settlement. He worked as a deputy to the missionary, George Taplin, teaching in the school, assisting with church services and undertaking general pastoral work. Unaipon co-authored, with Taplin, the anthropological work, The Narrinyeri, which recorded the cultural and linguistic heritage of the Ngarrindjeri people. After the death of Taplin in 1879 Unaipon continued as a spiritual leader of his people.
George Taplin (1831 – 1879) missionary and teacher
David Unaipon (1872 – 1967) preacher, author and inventor (the man on our $50 note)
Do you know that many people you meet are likely to have a picture of this church in their pocket ?
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