Life On The Job

Indigenous Famous Person's Story

SHEARER and ACTIVIST   -  William Cooper (18 December 1860 or 1861 – 29 March 1941) was an Australian Aboriginal political activist and community leader.

Portrait of William Cooper 


William Cooper was born in Yorta Yorta territory around the intersection of the Murray and Goulburn Rivers in Victoria, Australia on 18 December 1860.

William was born to Kitty Cooper, who identified as a Wollithica woman and spoke Yorta Yorta; and to James Cooper a white labourer. His early years were spent in and around Moira Station - Moitherban country.

Cooper appears to have been forced to work for a variety of pastoral employers, even as a child.

On 4 August 1874, William Cooper, along with his mother, Kitty, his brother Bobby and other relatives arrived at Maloga, an Aboriginal Mission on the Murray, run by Daniel and Janet Matthews.  (Source: Wikipedia)


From 1881, Cooper was educated by Thomas Shadrach James, a highly educated Tamil from Mauritius, who had moved to Maloga to become the resident teacher. Cooper read widely, learning of the indigenous rights movements in North America and New Zealand.  (Source: Wikipedia)

Adult Life and Activism

For most of his adult life, Cooper lived and worked in missions such as Maloga and Warangesda. He also found work as a "shearer, drover, horse-breaker and general rural labourer in Queensland, South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria."

Cooper's long campaign for Aboriginal rights, especially land rights, began with the Maloga Petition in 1887.

Well into his 70s, when he discovered he was ineligible for the pension if he remained on an Aboriginal reserve, Cooper moved to Footscray in western Melbourne in 1933. Here he found his calling as an activist, an organiser, and a relentless letter-writer.

At first this was in an individual capacity. But by 1935 Cooper had helped establish the Australian Aborigines League. As its secretary, Cooper circulated a petition seeking direct representation in parliament, enfranchisement and land rights. Knowing that, while not technically Australian citizens, all Aborigines and Islanders were British subjects, he made up his mind to petition King George V. Over several years, he and his team collected 1814 signatures, despite active obstruction from the national and state governments of the day.

Cooper was also effective in securing face-to-face meetings with governments. 1935, he was part of the first aboriginal deputation to a Commonwealth minister and in 1938, the first deputation to the Prime Minister. The government of the day rejected his requests, or, perhaps more accurately, ignored them. By the late 1930s his activities were actively monitored. In December 1937, Cooper received a visit from a detective acting on behalf of the Commonwealth Investigation Branch.[10] Seeing the failure of using democratic means, Cooper's Australian Aborigines League joined forces with Jack Patten and William Ferguson from the Aborigines Progressive Association to shame white Australia. They arranged a Day of Mourning to commemorate the sesquicentenary of colonisation, on Australia Day, 1938.

Cooper retired in November 1940 to reside with his wife at Barmah, near Echuca, Victoria and was made an honorary life member and president of the Australian Aborigines League. William Cooper continued protesting the injustice of the Australian treatment of its Indigenous people until his death on 29 March 1941. His major success was the establishment of a National Aborigines Day, first celebrated in 1940.  (Source: Wikipedia)

Did You Know?

Kristallnacht (lit. "Crystal Night") or Reichskristallnacht, also referred to as the Night of Broken Glass, Reichspogromnacht or simply Pogromnacht, and Novemberpogrome was a pogrom against Jews throughout Nazi Germany on 9–10 November 1938, carried out by SA paramilitary forces and German civilians. The German authorities looked on without intervening.

The name Kristallnacht comes from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after the windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and synagogues were smashed.

(Source: Wikipedia)

(Source: History Collection: Kristallnacht)

Cleaning up
Cleaning up after Kristallnacht

“There was only one ‘private’ protest (by citizens) that we know of against Kristallnacht and the German Nazi regime led by Adolf Hitler —this was instigated by William Cooper.”
(Source: NITV 31 May 2018)

Kristallnacht Protest

On 6 December 1938, several weeks after Kristallnacht in Germany, Cooper led a delegation of the Australian Aboriginal League to the German Consulate in Melbourne to deliver a petition which condemned the "cruel persecution of the Jewish people by the Nazi government of Germany." The protest has been referred to as "the only private protest against the Germans following Kristallnacht." The German Consulate did not accept the petition. (Source: Wikipedia)

Bronze statue
Bronze statue of William Cooper in Shepparton, NSW.
The statue actually depicts Uncle William holding a petition defending the human rights of Jewish people in response to Kristallnaucht, "The Night of Broken Glass", when tens of thousands of Jews were arrested and taken to Nazi concentration camps.

Uncle William presented the petition to the German Consulate in December 1938, as an act of protest against the persecution of Jewish people at the hands of Nazi Germany.
(Source: SBS)


Did You Know?

1. 70 trees were planted in Israel in William Cooper's honour

2. Yuval Rotem, the Israeli Ambassador said of William Cooper: “William Cooper deserves to be remembered as a hero to the Jewish people and an inspiration to mankind. His message is clear: the convenience of silence is as evil as the greatest crime”

3. William was never publically recognized for his efforts during his lifetime

4. In 2018 the Melbourne Electorate of Batman has changed its name to Cooper, in William's honour


Australian Dictionary of Biography




National Museum of Australia


NITV: William Cooper: a Koorie's protest against the Nazis: 31 May 2018


Victorian Government

Victorian government

ABC News 6 December 2012

ABC News
ABC Awaye! One Blood: the story of William Cooper (Audio file)


William Cooper: An Aboriginal who stood up to Hitler

William Cooper Hitler
ABC News 23 May 2017

ABC News

SMH 13 December 2010 

Israel honours Cooper

ABC Afternoons 7 November 2018
[Audio - 20 mins]

ABC Afternoons

ABC News 10 November 2018

ABC News

ABC: Soul Search 31 May 2020
[Audio - from 33mins - 54 mins]
An interview with Uncle Alf 'Boydie' Turner, the grandson of the
legendary Yorta Yorta leader William Cooper

Soul Search

Historian Bain Attwood shares his insights into the long and productive life of William Cooper on Late Night Live - 4 November 2021. Audio 28mins


YouTube: William Cooper Commemoration


On 6 December 2008, the 70th anniversary of the protest against Kristallnacht, Cooper's grandson, Alfred "Boydie" Turner, was presented with a certificate from the Israeli Ambassador stating that 70 Australian trees were to be planted in Israel in honor of William Cooper. The ceremony, held at the State Parliament in Melbourne, was attended by several dozen members of the Yorta Yorta tribe as well as Victorian Premier John Brumby, Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin, lawmakers, diplomats and Jewish leaders.

On 28 April 2009, five trees were planted at the Forest of the Martyrs near Jerusalem at a ceremony in Israel attended by Turner and about 12 members of William Cooper's extended family as well as a number of Jewish leaders. On the same day, a ceremony at the Aborigines Advancement League in Melbourne was held to honour Cooper's "brave stance against the oppression of the Jews."

In August 2010, the Yad VaShem Holocaust museum in Israel announced they would honour Cooper for his protests against the behavior towards Jews on Kristallnacht. Yad Vashem plans to endow a small garden at its entrance in Cooper's honor. Cooper's name was submitted for recognition when it was discovered that Cooper's rally was the only private protest against Germany in the wake of Kristallnacht.

On 5 October 2010, the William Cooper Justice Centre was opened in Melbourne. The newly developed court complex was named in honour of Cooper's efforts as an indigenous rights campaigner.

William Cooper Justice Centre
Plaque inside William Cooper Justice Centre
Justice Centre external
William Cooper Justice Centre - external


In December 2010, there were three commemorative events:

• Cooper's great-grandson, Kevin Russell re-enacted the walk from Cooper's home, meeting up with Cooper's grandson Uncle Boydie at Federation Square.

• Cooper was honoured in Israel by the creation of an Academic Chair in his honour to support resistance and research of World Holocaust Studies. A professorship attached to this Academic Chair is valued at $1,000,000.

• A Tribute was held at Yad Vashem World Holocaust Memorial, with the family as invited guests. The Australian/Israel Leadership Forum hosted an associated Gala Dinner to be attended by Kevin Rudd, Julie Bishop and another 17 Ministers including the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.


Additionally, the William Cooper Cup is an annual trophy awarded to the winner of an Australian rules football match between the Aboriginal All-Stars and Victoria Police at Whitten Oval in Footscray.[25]

In June 2018, the Australian Electoral Commission renamed the federal Division of Batman to Division of Cooper in Cooper's honour.

Division of Cooper


Past It On: Benno and the Night of Broken Glass (adapted by Ella Barry, ACU Education student)

PrimaryPrimary MiddleMiddle  High SchoolSecondary

Personal and social capabilityAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Personal and social capability

Ethical Understanding Australian Curriculum General Capability: Ethical Understanding

LiteracyAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Literacy 

Intercultural UnderstandingAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Intercultural Understanding

Cooperative LearningCooperative Learning Activity




1. In groups of 4 - 5 students, each student is to select one website from the following to understand the Kristallnacht (or the Night of Broken Glass) using the Expert Jigsaw Strategy.

Share what you have learnt.

Jewish Virtual Library

Jewish Virtual Library 
The History Place: World War II in Europe 

History Place
Destruction of Synagogues on Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass,
November 9, 1938.

Destruction of Synagogues
Museum of Tolerance Online

Museum of Tolerance


2. You are to read the picture book, Benno and the Night of the Broken Glass by Meg Wiviott. Reading

Benno and the Night of the Broken Glass



TeacherTeacher Instructions

The "Pass It On" creative writing activity is explained to the class.

The students will be writing a short story based on what happened to a particular character in "Benno and the Night of Broken Glass".

Each group will be assigned a character. The students are to write a story about what happened next to their character.

The writing will occur in 5 x
5 minute intervals. In the first 5 minutes, students will be given time to write an introduction, when the 5 minutes are up the students will fold their paper so only the last sentence of their story is visible. They then pass their story to the person next to them (in their group).

In the following 5 minutes, students will write a rising action. When the 5 minutes are up, the students will fold their paper so only the last sentence of their story is visible. They will then pass their story to the person next to them (in their group). The process will be repeated until each student has completed their story, complete with an introduction, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution.

Students are to be given time to read through their stories. Ask for volunteers to read aloud their story.

3. Divide the class into 4 - 5 within a group and allocate one character to each group:

  • Benno
  • Professor Goldfarb
  • Frau Gerber
  • Mitzi Stein
  • Mosche the butcher
  • Sophie
  • Inge

4. Each student is to write an introduction to their story about what happened next to their character.

5. After 5 minutes, students are to fold their paper showing only the last sentence and pass their paper to the next person in their group. They are to continue writing for another 5 minutes. Again, the students are to fold their paper showing only their last sentence and pass it onto the next person in their group. This process will continue until 5 paragraphs are completed.

6. The students are then to read their story silently. If they wish to read out their story to the whole class, they are to volunteer.

7. In the vain of Josee Bisaillon, the students are to illustrate their story.



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