Scholarship winners inspired by Indigenous campaigner’s legacy

William Cooper Indigenous Scholarship recipient, John Singh-Nagyivan
William Cooper Indigenous Scholarship recipient, John Singh-Nagyivan

Born in 1861, Yorta Yorta man William Cooper was an activist who pioneered the Aboriginal civil rights movement, fighting for the welfare of his people well into his 70s.

Now, his legacy is being honoured by a scholarship supporting Australian Indigenous students.

The William Cooper Indigenous Scholarship, launched in late 2018, is awarded to two high-achieving students each year, encouraging them to be future leaders in their community, and to support other Indigenous students to access higher education. They were made possible by a $1 million donation from Dr John Gandel AC and Dr Pauline Gandel.

Professor Jacinta Elston, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Indigenous), confirmed the importance of the gift by Gandel Philanthropy. “The majority of Indigenous students come to university with limited financial stability – the gift of a scholarship that eases the burden of residential and living expenses in many cases is the key to their success.”

The first two recipients are planning to address the inequalities experienced by Indigenous Australians in healthcare and public health; the William Cooper story has further motivated them to become advocates of change.

John Singh-Nagyivan (pictured), who’s worked in Aboriginal communities for seven years, is studying a Bachelor of Science with a minor in public health. “Advocacy is one of the only catalysts for change and changing health initiatives,” John said.

Jaya Blandthorn is undertaking a Bachelor of Nursing, and hopes to work as a midwife improving survival rates in remote Indigenous communities. “It would be amazing for Indigenous youth to be able to look up and say, ‘Jaya did that, and she did this, and if she can do it, I can do it’,” she said.

As well as his many achievements advocating for Aboriginal people, William Cooper led a protest in Melbourne in 1938 against the atrocities committed against Jewish people in Nazi Germany, forging a bond between Indigenous Australians and the Jewish community.

Eighty years later, in early 2019, Professor Elston and Jamil Tye, on behalf of Monash, arranged a trip for Jaya and John to Shepparton to meet William Cooper’s grandson, Uncle Boydie Turner, who walked with his grandfather that day 80 years ago. Jaya also shares a familial connection with William Cooper.

The opportunity

Monash has a demonstrated commitment to fostering an environment that respects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, cultures and knowledge. The Monash Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advancement – 2019-2030 has identified opportunities to work with community and philanthropic partners towards addressing the legacies of the past.

If you would like to know more, contact Gillian Dodgin at

Why partner with Monash to provide educational opportunities?

  • Monash has received three awards in the 2018 Higher Education Awards, the highest number awarded to any university (Equity and Opportunity, Facilities Innovation, International Education).
  • We provide 5000 equity and access scholarships annually.