WIlliam Cooper’s great grandson walks the walk

November 28, 2010 Agencies
Read on for article

Next Sunday, the great grandson of William Cooper, the Aboriginal remembered for organising the only protest in the world against Kristellnacht, will walk in his great grandfather’s footsteps…

William Cooper

On Decenber 6, 1938, William Cooper led a group of Aboriginals from his Footscray home to the German Consulate in the Melbourne’s CBD to protest the injustices being carried out against the Jews by the Nazis highlighted by  Kristellnacht.

Kevin Russell, will re-enact the walk from Cooper’s home meeting up with Cooper’s grandson Uncle Boydie at Federation Square at noon.

Russell has issued the following invitation:

I would like to invite you all to Federation Square on Sunday 5th Dec between 11.30am and 2.00pm to help celebrate the walk I will be doing from 8.00am that morning from William Cooper’s home of 1938 in Footscray to the city.
William is about to be honoured in Israel on the following Sunday 12th Dec, by way of an Academic Chair created in his honour to support resistance and research of World Holocaust Studies. A professorship is attached to this Academic Chair valued at $1,000,000.

William will be honoured with a Tribute and Dinner at Yad Vashem World Holocaust Memorial on Sunday 12 December.  The family are invited guests and have also been invited by The Australian/Israel Leadership Forum to attended a Gala Dinner to be attended by Mr K.Rudd, J.Bishop and another 17 Ministers. The Gala dinner to be held at the King David Hotel Jerusalem and will also be attended by the P.M.of Israel Mr Netanyanu.

Kevin Russell and Uncle Boydie

William is being honoured for the stance he took and the protest he led to the German Embassy on 6th Dec 1938 to protest Nazi persecution of Jews. This was incredible act from an Aboriginal Elder whom was 78 at the time and after campaigning all of his life for his own people, still found the time to stand up for another oppressed people. Of cause he understood what it was like to be oppressed.

My walk is really an opportunity for us all to celebrate the remarkable celebration that is about to happen for an Aboriginal Elder on the other side of the world.

Hoping to see you all on Sunday 5th Dec at 11.30am

The Victorian Government opened The William Cooper Justice Centre on the 6th October. J-Wire reprints Kevin Russell’s keynote address:

Before I talk to you of my great grandfather William Cooper, I would like to thank Aunty Di, for her welcome. It is hugely important that cultural protocols are maintained so that our culture remains strong and intact. The significance of welcome to country and our connection to land should not be underestimated, and as we move forward in our attempts to “close the gap” we should acknowledge the importance of land to aboriginal people.

I pay my respects to Wurunjeri Elders past and present, Elders, Community Leaders, and all Indigenous people with us today, as we join in honouring the legacy of William Cooper.

There are number of others I should be acknowledging but rather than name them all I am will take the easy way out and pay my respects and acknowledge all who are with us today on this memorable occasion, including the Attorney General and Deputy Premier, The Honourable Mr Rob Hulls, Dept of Justice Representatives and other Government Officials.

I would also like to acknowledge those members of the Jewish Community whom are with us today, some who have travelled from interstate. We are humbled by the friendships developed in recent years and I thank you for your continued support.

Finally and most importantly I need to acknowledge my own elder in Uncle Boydie. Uncle has been not only an uncle to me but a mentor and role model. I have been fortunate to spend a lot of time with Uncle in recent years and he has shared many stories of his time living with his grandfather way back in the 1930’s. These stories and others shared by my grandmother, Williams’ daughter Sally, are stories that I treasure. I thank you Uncle, and I am both privileged and proud that you have asked me to speak on behalf of the family today.

“Reflect on 2 Stories of Uncle Boydie!”

I have been asked to share with you today a little of William Cooper? What was he was like? What did he do? What drove him to do the many amazing things he did? I am afraid time will not allow me to do “justice” to the William Cooper Story this morning but I do hope you take something positive away from this mornings’ presentation.

Uncle tells me what a proud and dignified man William was, how single minded he was in his fight to empower our people. He tells me how age and sickness did not prevent him from his daily activities of walking to the city and standing on a fruit box on the banks of the Yarra River speaking of the aboriginal issue. My grandmother Sally always spoke of her father as a hero, and she installed in my siblings and myself the knowledge of William and the amazing things he tried to do for our people.

These stories of William in his old age are inspirational, but it is when reading the diaries/memoirs of Daniel Matthews, the missionary and founder of Maloga Mission and its school, that you understand what life was really like for William and his people.

The Maloga Mission is where as a 13 year old boy in 1874, William, with his mother Kitty (Wild Kit) and grandmother Maria, were one of the first families to settle, where food and shelter were offered in return for converting to Christianity, This was a pretty good option at the time because life along the river had become treacherous as the inland settlement continued to take its toll on our people. Towns like Bendigo, Ballarat and Echuca with a population 1500, were thriving business centres, yet our people were on the fringes, as the rifle, alcohol and disease had had the desired effect.

In the period between 1851 and 1894 the sheep population of N.S.W. ( Where Maloga and Cummera Missions were) had increased from 5 million to 67 million, as traditional food sources disappeared and access to the river country was now restricted by wire fences and cruel station managers. These new stations (Moira and Medowie) that were taking our land were owned by prominent businessman and politicians of Melbourne. They were in constant dispute with Daniel Matthews who was looked upon as a black lover who lured their workers away to Maloga Mission!!

Daniel was often threatened and victimised. He used to confront these men for their use of our women as young as 12, being kept in blacks camps on these stations for the shearers and labourers pleasure. Maloga was not popular with the Station Managers, but word spread among the aboriginals and they came from far and wide to settle on Maloga, seeking respite from life as it had become!!

William excelled at the Maloga School, and I quote Daniel Matthews Diary dated 6th August 1874.

“The boy Billy Cooper showed great aptitude for learning, he has acquired the alphabet, both capitals and small in 3 days and has been able to teach his brother Bobby capitals in one day”.

We know in later life William was to become a prolific letter writer, and it is here he developed those skills.

As a 20 year old in 1881, William would have witnessed first hand the effects of government policies in what was known as the protection era.

Unfortunately it was those who were to protect us that we needed protection from the most!!

Life in this period saw an explosion in the number of children (William included), born to white fathers who had had their way and then of course disappeared. This set the way for future policies such as the “half cast policy”, designed to deal with the increasing numbers of “not so dark children.”

William went on to work as a shearer, horse breaker and labourer before he was taken to the Melbourne home of Sir John O’Shannesy  (Former Premier of Victoria) to work as a coachman. William returned to his people and Maloga Mission in 1884, aged 23, and married Annie Clarendon Murri. Unfortunately Annie passed away 5 years later in 1889, leaving William and one of two children Emma.

William remarried my great grandmother Agnes Hamilton in 1893 and they settled on Cummeragunja ( means “our home” in yorta yorta language) just a few miles from the now disused mission of Maloga.

Cummeragunja was an 1800 acre reserve set aside by the government for aboriginal people to farm and clear and soon became quite successful with quality wool, grain and timber products. William and Agnes had 6 children before Agnes passed in 1910, leaving William now 50 years old, widowed for a second time and with 7 children.

One of those children, his son Daniel, was killed in action on the 21st Sept 1917, aged 21. Killed along with many of his people, fighting for a country that did not recognize he nor his father or any of our people as citizens of that country.

My grandmother Sally could never rest knowing her brother Dan lay buried on the other side of the world. Maybe one day I will fulfill her dream and have Dan bought home to be buried next to his father on Cummeragunja.

With the depression after the war and conditions deteriorating on Cummeragunja, which was now under the harsh management of Superindendant McQuiggan, who patrolled the reserve carrying a rifle, William decided it was time to leave the reserve and go to Melbourne in pursuit of  his peoples survival.

In 1932, aged 71, William settled in the western suburbs of Melbourne and eventually made Footscray his home. It was at this time that William was most active in his campaign to improve the conditions for his people and with other elders like Uncle Doug Nicholls, Aunty Marge Tucker, Aunty Geraldine Briggs, Uncle Jack Patten, Uncle Eric and Lyn Onus, Uncle Bruce Ferguson and many others,……. formed the nucleus of the then Australian Aboriginies League. Some of their     most noted actions include:

1933-37       The Famous Petition To King George V.

1935………Led a Delegation of Aboriginals to the Commonwealth seeking Federal Control of      Aboriginal Affairs

1936………Founded the First Aboriginal Political Organization Aust. Aboriginies League.

1938……… “Day of Mourning” Protest…… On 26th January 1938, to coincide with the 150 year Celebration of Colonization.

1938………Kristallnacht “Night of Broken Glass” Protest against Nazi oppression and persecution of the Jews of Europe

1939………Cummeragunja Walk Off …First Mass Strike of Aboriginals in this country!

1940………Declared National Aboriginal Day……..Now NAIDOC.

1941………29th March William passes back to Dreamtime.

1967………Referendum….(Williams Dream). 90% Yes Vote!

1988………Commonwealth Bi Centenary Celebrations.. William named as one of The 100 Greatest Australians.

2007………Western Suburbs Indigenous Gathering Place holds William Cooper Memorial Walk. (40 years since referendum)

2009………Martyrs Forest Tree Planting Ceremony. (Jerusalem)

2010………William Cooper Footbridge (Footscray), The William Cooper Justice Centre and in December the opening of the William Cooper Memorial Garden at the entrance to the World Holocaust Memorial Centre (Yad Vashem) in Jerusalem

As you can see William was a man way ahead of his time, and had a vision that nobody would listen to. A vision that included the uplift of this country using the skills and knowldeges that already existed within our people.

Nowadays we look at self determination and assets based programs that draw on the knowledges and skills of our own people, something that William was advocating for back in the 1920’s and 30’s. Maybe we are now finally listening to some of Williams’ messaages

When we wonder what William was like, we need look no further than his family.

Williams’ daughter, Aunty Amy Cooper/Charles (Uncle Boydies Mother) was matron of the first Aboriginal Girls Hostel in Melbourne 1959.

We know son Daniel was killed in action in Belgium in 1917.

Uncle Lynch another son, was Stawell Gift winner in 1928 and World Professional Sprint Champion 1929.

Uncle Gill, another son, worked for over 50 years with the old Victorian Railways.

My grandmother Sally Cooper/Russell,………..Safe Home and Meeting Place for over 50 years in Footscray.

And of course we only need to look at Uncle Boydie for further reflection of his grandfather.

Everything you see in Uncle Boydie, the dignity, and the way he has lived his life for the community (Current Board Member Rumbalara) reflects his grandfather William.

Williams’ legacy is being honoured today with the opening of the William Cooper Justice Centre, a court precinct where justice shall be delivered. What an appropriate way to honour a man who fought all of his life seeking justice, not only for his people, but for all marginalized and oppressed peoples.

We, the aboriginal community and family of William Cooper, are proud of our great ancestor, and are delighted that this Justice Centre is being named in his honour.

Many of us here today continue to strive for justice, just as William did 100 years ago.  Let us not give up in our endeavours to make sure justice prevails, and in the face of adversity, fight as William did, and his message will not be in vain.

I would like to thank The Koorie Justice Unit and Andrew Jackomos, for the wonderful recognition you have bestowed upon a Truly Great Man, William Cooper my GGF. In line with this years’ NAIDOC Theme:

A True Unsung Hero.

In closing I would like to quote former Chief Executive Officer of Melbourne Jewish Holocaust Centre Mr Bernard Korbman.

“William should be remembered for not only what he tried to do for his people, but as a Global Warrior for Humanity”.


5 Responses to “WIlliam Cooper’s great grandson walks the walk”
  1. Trent rosenstrauss says:

    P.s me (jew) and my (aboriginal) wife will be proud to have (jeworiginal) children. 🙂

  2. Trent rosenstrauss says:

    Thank you uncle William Cooper from the Rosenstrauss family. You fought for our human rights when you had very little your self. we all should keep on fighting.

  3. Belinda (nee Aaronstein) Travers says:

    As a young child growing up in Australia in the 1950’s my parents and friends would often talk on Friday nights when Jewish families would stop and take time for time to reflect. Often our thoughts and conversations would turn to the Great William Cooper and his respect for us as a people and nation. We aways finished these inspirational moments and coversations with “If there is one William Cooper amongst us there will always a light and a true path for tolerance and collaboration in Australia”.

  4. Kathy Booth says:

    Thankyou for this fascinating part of Aussie history unheard of by me until now. From “the other side” (W.A.) we thankyou for maintaining a truly great and important tradition begun by one of the nation’s first people.How appropriate that God’s chosen people and the indigenous people of Australia should be linked in this unique way!

  5. Rita says:

    Unfortunately I cannot joine this lovely effort as I live in Sydney, but I’ll alert my friends to it.

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