80th memorial of the passing of William Cooper

Article by: Professor Jacinta Elston, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous)

Last Monday, was the 80th memorial of the passing of the legendary Aboriginal activist, William Cooper, who passed away on 29th March 1941 at 80 years of age.

On many occasions when he was just a very small boy, Alf Turner, or Uncle Boydie as he’s known, walked alongside his grandfather, William Cooper from their home in the Melbourne suburb of Footscray into the CBD, helping him to carry his books and papers on the outings which were undertaken to pursue Aboriginal rights.

Uncle Boydie has told of how his grandfather on many of those trips would“stand up on a box on the banks of the Yarra to tell people how the Aboriginal people were treated”. During his activism years, he wrote letters and organised petitions to kings and governments, and he was central in the work of the Aboriginal Advancement League (AAL) which he helped establish.

In 1938, to mark the sesquicentenary of the arrival of the British, William Cooper, his fellow members of the League, and Bill Ferguson (of theNSW-based Aborigine’s Progressive Association) organised a ’Day of Mourning’ for 26 January to draw attention to the decimation of Indigenous populations since the arrival of Europeans.

Furthermore, on December 6, 1938, William Cooper led a march to the Melbourne’s German Consulate as a stand against the persecution of Jewish people by the Nazi government.

The legacy of his work and efforts to advance the lives and wellbeing of Aboriginal people has not been forgotten, and the work continues, particularly through NAIDOC week each year which resulted from William Cooper's efforts in those early years.

There is still so much work to do, but I'm grateful for the support and partnership of colleagues and leaders all across Monash University who have reached out and embraced what the team and I are doing in the William Cooper Institute.

When the William Cooper Institute was formally opened by the Hon Member Ken Wyatt AM PM on 6th December 2019, having Uncle Boydie and other family members there to celebrate that occasion with us was an honour.

With the legacy of William Cooper to ground us, I know we will see the Institute  go on to make great contributions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the years to come.

I would like to conclude by saying that, I'm very proud and deeply honored to be the inaugural Head of the William Cooper Institute at Monash University.