Uncle William Cooper petitions the King of England

Uncle William Cooper was a Yorta Yorta man and a leader of the Aboriginal political movement in the early 1900s.

Born in 1861, Uncle William Cooper spent most of his life near the junction of the Murray and Goulburn rivers, on Yorta Yorta country. He lived on missions and state-funded reserves in New South Wales and Victoria, including the Maloga Mission, and the Cummeragunja Mission.

Uncle William joined the Australian Workers' Union and represented Aboriginal workers in western New South Wales and central Victoria. He fought for remote communities that were denied aid during drought and the Depression. 

In 1933, while in his 70’s, he moved to Footscray in western Melbourne. It was here he became involved in the Aboriginal community of Melbourne and where his skills as an activist, an organiser, and a relentless letter-writer were truly recognised.

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Image source: Toorak Times.


One of Uncle William’s most famous campaigns was a petition to King George V. The main demand was for the right to propose a Member of Parliament who directly represented Aboriginal people. Over several years, he and his team collected 1814 signatures, despite the federal and state governments at the time trying to obstruct this and the petition was also published in The Herald (Melbourne) on 15 September 1933.

"Whereas it was not only a moral duty, but also a strict injunction included in the commission issued to those who came to people Australia that the original occupants and we, their heirs and successors, should be adequately cared for…your petitioners therefore humbly pray that your Majesty will intervene in our behalf and through the instrument of your Majesty's Government in the Commonwealth grant to our people representation in~ the Federal Parliament, either in the person of one of our own blood or by a white man known to have studied our needs and to be in sympathy with our race.”

The petition was received by the Commonwealth Government in August 1937. However, by February 1938, it was clear that the Cabinet had decided that it should not be submitted to the King, which was now King George VI.

In 2014, after decades of struggle a replica of the original petition now sits with the original addressee's granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II. The campaign to deliver the petition has been kept alive by Uncle William Cooper's grandson, Uncle "Boydie" Turner. While the Queen did not formally respond to the petition it was a strong show of determination and something that Uncle William Cooper would have been proud to see happen.

Image source: Common Grace.



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