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NAIDOC Week: William Cooper’s legacy

The roots of NAIDOC Week can be traced back to the 1920s and 30s, when First Nations rights groups took formation and staged boycotts and marches on the Australian government. Instrumental in these actions was William Cooper, who led the 1938 Day of Mourning march, which demanded constitutional powers for Aboriginal people.

📷 William Cooper, circa 1937.

Cooper holds a special position in the Sydney Jewish Museum for his incredible empathy for the plight of all persecuted peoples, including the Jews of Europe. In December 1938, at a time when Aboriginal people were denied their own basic human rights, Cooper was moved to action upon hearing of the devastation of Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass), and led a march on the German Consulate in Melbourne.

Cooper was refused entry, and little attention was attracted to the cause at the time. However, 72 years after his efforts, Cooper was honoured by Yad Vashem. Cooper’s legacy is recognised in our Holocaust exhibition for his outreach to the Jewish community. You can also find him recognised in our Holocaust and Human Rights exhibition for his immense efforts for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Cooper’s descendants retain their close affiliation with the rights of oppressed peoples, and continue to honour them through the Museum, as a place for the promotion of the rights of all.

Image: Reconstruction of the petition by Australian Aborigines’ League in 1938 (detail), SJM Collection.

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