History of NAIDOC Victoria

Did you know that NAIDOC started from a Day of Mourning on Australia Day in 1938?

The Aboriginal inhabitants of Australia respectfully petitioned King George V of England to prevent the extinction of the Aboriginal race and to grant Aborigines representation in Federal Parliament. They said that their lands had been expropriated and their legal status denied.

By early 1935, nearly 2000 signatures were obtained with most states represented. The final number was 1814 signatures – about 900 from Queensland  (mostly from Palm Island), over 500 signatures from Western Australia, 350 from South Australia, 9 from the Northern Territory and a small number from Victoria and NSW. The petition was initiated in 1933 by Uncle William Cooper and the Melbourne-based Australian Aborigines League – the first national Aboriginal organisation in Australia William Cooper forwarded the petition to the Commonwealth Government in October 1937, requesting that it be presented to the King of England via Australian Prime Minister Joseph Lyons.

The government informed Uncle William in March 1938 that they could not forward the petition to the King on constitutional grounds. Why? The Aboriginal petitioners were all subjects of the King but not citizens of Australia – having lost citizenship when Australian states federated in 1901. Not only did they lose their sovereignty, their land and their way of life to the new settlers, but the settlers were citizens and the original inhabitants were not!

Also, Section 51 of the constitution meant that the Commonwealth Government had no authority to pass legislation for Aborigines, including legislation giving them representation in Federal Parliament. They only had jurisdiction over the Northern Territory.

This began the struggle that eventually lead to the 1967 referendum which successfully changed the constitution so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people could be counted in the Australian census and the Commonwealth could have responsibility for Aboriginal affairs. It also led William Cooper to work with NSW Aborigines to hold the original Day of Mourning in Sydney on Australia Day 1938; and to talk the churches into holding Aboriginal Sunday in 1938, which became National Aborigines Day and, eventually, NAIDOC that we still celebrate today.

Alf Turner (Uncle Boydie) is the grandson of William Cooper and it was his dream that his grandfather’s original petition be presented to the granddaughter of King George V, the present Queen of England. This would right a historic wrong. He achieved this in August 2014.

Uncle Boydie was our special guest for Vic NAIDOC 2015. It was a great honour to have him speak and present a special performance at Vic NAIDOC Ball, held Saturday 11th July 2015, in remembrance of William Cooper and his efforts to see Aboriginal people represented in Federal Parliament.

Find out about NAIDOC Week 2017 events here.

Information sourced from – http://barbara-miller-books.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Cover-letter-for-Petition-to-Queen-2013.pdf

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