Monday, December 14, 2009

farmdoc's blog post number 603

This is the story of William Cooper (pictured). Born around 1861 in Yorta Yorta country, he helped establish, and became secretary of, the Australian Aborigines League [AAL]. On 6 December 1938, four weeks after the horrors of the Nazis’ Kristallnacht pogrom, at the age of 77, Cooper led an AAL delegation to the German Consulate in South Melbourne, to deliver a petition ‘on behalf of the Aborigines of Australia, a strong protest at the cruel persecution of the Jewish people by the Nazi government of Germany’. The delegation was refused entry, but the petition was made public the same day. Last 2 December, almost exactly 70 years after Cooper’s protest, at Victoria’s Parliament House Israel’s Ambassador presented Cooper’s grandson, Alfred ‘Boydie’ Turner, with a certificate stating 70 Australian trees were to be planted in Israel in Cooper’s honour [1]. Several dozen members of the Yorta Yorta tribe attended, plus numerous politicians and other dignitaries. On 28 April 2009 the trees were duly planted in the Forest of the Martyrs near Jerusalem – using Murray River water and Yorta Yorta soil – in a ceremony attended by Turner, 12 other members of Cooper’s extended family, and several Jewish leaders. The same day a ceremony at the AAL in Melbourne honoured Cooper’s ‘brave stance against the oppression of the Jews’. Cooper’s was an amazing gesture from one dispossessed and alienated people to another. I’m gratified it’s finally been appropriately recognised. And also commemorated by media coverage in last week’s edition of ABC Radio National’s programme Awaye! (Audio and video here, images here.) Cooper died in 1941 – seven years before Israel was born; and before strong links between Melbourne’s Koori and Jewish communities were forged [2, 3].

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