William Cooper fully identified as an Aboriginal man. But he never denied that he was also “European.” He was very much aware of his heritage on both sides.
William was the son of Kitty. Her surname was, sometimes Atkinson, sometimes Cooper. She was earlier known as Kitty Lewis possibly because of the original owner of Moira Station, Henry Lewes, also known as Henry Lewis. This does not allude to him being her father, more to the point that many Aboriginals were given surnames of station owners and even of the station itself. In some documents, you’ll also see her referred to as Moira Kitty. William’s father was apparently a Moira Station labourer by the name of James Cooper.
William Cooper was born into very different times and lifestyle to what his mother was born into. The change had already come. By the time of his birth in 1860-61, settlement had already encroached on his peoples tribal lands. Settlement had been established in the area from 1841 by Edward Curr at Tongala Station and Lower Moira Station, on the southern side of the Murray River and 1842 by Henry Lewes/Lewis at Moira Station on the northern side.
Although most don’t like to use the term today, William was known as “a half caste.” In fact, he referred to himself as being half caste or half Aboriginal, but also of European descent.
At that time Moira station was owned by a squatter by the name of Henry Lewes, which was later sold to Sir John O’Shannassy in 1862-3. William was born at Moira Station and grew up as a station worker from a young age there. He later went to Melbourne where he apparently began his education and worked as a Coach driver for Sir John O’Shannassy, who was the First, Third and Fifth Premier of Victoria after the separation of the States, in 1851. As a result of his birth, and his early years in white society, he was always able to move easily between black and white communities.