William Cooper and Jewish-Yorta Yorta/Koori solidarity

by roadsideservice

Used with permission from Cooper family

I got an email yesterday from a good friend of mine Yorta Yorta man Peter Ferguson. Ferg’s great-grandfather was William Cooper. Ferg is looking for financial assistance to take his family to Israel for the opening of the William Cooper Memorial Garden at Yad Vashem

Uncle William led the first protest in Australia against the treatment of European Jewry by Nazi Germany immediately after Kristallnacht. As secretary of the Australian Aborigines League, Uncle William’s protest was significant in as much as it was the first private non-state, action against fascism in Germany. The protest Uncle William led to the German Consulate was refused admittance.

Perhaps the most significant of all was that Cooper’s Yorta Yorta community at Cumeragunja were experiencing the ‘intimidation, starvation [and] victimisation’ by the then Manager A.J. McQuiggan from the Aborigines Protection Board. McQuiggan was formally of the infamous Kinchela Boys Home where he was known as an ‘indebted drunkard who had regularly punished boys at the home for minor infractions by tying them to the fence and beating them with hosepipes and stockwhips’. On Cumera, Kooris had come to the conclusion that McQuiggan needed to go for his ‘arrogant, offensive and abusive’ behaviour’. Uncle William wrote:

The people are frightened of him at any time, for we have been cowed down so long but the fact that he carries a rifle about with him makes matters worse. We have been decimated by the rifle among other things and fear the result of one being carried now.

The protection board’s ambivalent response to the anger at McQuiggan’s behaviour elicited the following from Uncle William:

I submit that this is not in accordance with the British tradition and would not be done for a fully white community and in itself constitutes a further grievance…we are not an enemy people and we are not in Nazi concentration camps. Why should we then be treated as if we are?

It is incredibly significant that Uncle William would go out of his way to keep an eye out for European Jewry at a time of such deprivation of his own people.

I haven’t been able to help but think of my grandmother who was a child at the time, but who saw, in remote Australia, the kind of violence and deprivation and the trickle effect of eugenics thinking in her own life on Aboriginal people, and was able to enjoy the privileges that a “white Australia” offered. And yet in a different place, had she been in a Nazi occupied Europe, her situation would have been much different.

On the 15th of December Yad Vashem will be opening the William Cooper Memorial Garden in honour of Uncle William’s work, and Peter Ferguson is looking to take his family along for the opening. He is also looking to take with him two great-great-granddaughters of Uncle William and a great-great-great-grandaughter along with him.

Peter is looking for financial assistance to do this, in his own words:

I am writing to ask you for money for us to be able to travel to Israel and play a part in this ceremony. I cannot stress how important this is to my family and what a great source of pride it is for us to see him recognised in this way. The recent opening of the William Cooper Justice Centre in Melbourne saw almost all my brothers and sisters make the journey to Melbourne – with many of their kids in attendance as well – and all off their own bat.

But the cost of this trip is way beyond what we as a family can afford which is why I’m asking for assistance on behalf of my family.

Peter Ferguson can be contacted for further information and cost break downs here:

Mobile: 04—–

Email: peterf@ or umayorta@

It would be great if anyone out there could help out, or otherwise, have some awesome contacts for anyone who could.

Historical info from:

Goodall, H., (1996) Invasion to embassy: land in Aboriginal politics in new South Wales, 1770-1972