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William Cooper, John Needham and the Creation of NAIDOC

After some promising discussions with Prime Minister Joseph Lyons in the late 1930s, it became clear to William Cooper and his colleagues at the Australian Aborigines' League that the federal government was not going to do anything for the Indigenous cause. The cabinet was stonewalling the Petition to the King. The message came back to Cooper that the Constitution prevented them from making laws to improve the position of Aboriginal people. From here, William Cooper began two initiatives. One short-term and provocative. That was the now-famous Day of Mourning, held on Elizabeth Street in Sydney on January 26, 1938. The other was a long-term idea. A national day of observation for which Cooper turned to the Christian churches. Originally known as Aborigines Sunday, it is today known as NAIDOC - a national celebration of Indigenous culture that is still widely celebrated. It began with a form letter 1 that went to all the denominational heads:
W. Cooper Hon. Sec., AAL, 43 Mackay Street, Yarraville, 27 December 1937. Australia Day 1938 Aborigines’ Day of Mourning The Australian Aborigines’ Progressive Association of New South Wales has called on all aborigines in the advanced stages of civilisation and culture to observe a DAY OF MOURNING concurrently with the white man’s DAY OF REJOICING to celebrate the 150th year of the coming of the white man to Australia. The aborigines, by this means, hope to call the attention to the present deplorable condition of all aborigines, of whatever stage of culture, after 150 years of British rule. It is expected that such action will create such sympathy on the part of the whites that full justice and recompense will follow. The “DAY OF MOURNING” has been endorsed by the Australian Aborigines’ League, the Victorian body, which also looks after Federal matters, and it is expected that meetings will be held an a number of places and suitable resolutions passed. This League now asks the Christian community to help us in another way. We know that sympathy with the aborigines is widespread and growing and, because the aboriginal knows that the goodwill of the whiteman is essential to success they seek to justify the continuance of this sympathy. We now ask all Christian denominations to observe Sunday, 3rd January as ABORIGINES’ DAY. We request that sermons be preached on this day dealing with the aboriginal people and their need of the gospel and response to it and we ask that special prayer be invoked for all missionary and other effort for the uplift of the dark people. We regret the unavoidable delay in submitting our request, which was not avoidable in all the circumstances, but we feel that a suitable notice from you in your church press will give that wide publicity that is so essential. Very sincerely yours, W. Cooper.
No doubt, many leaders responded. But the key relationship turned out to be the one between Cooper and Canon John Needham. Needham was the President of the National Missionary Council of Australia. It seems he'd had a long relationship with Aboriginal people - and was known for speaking against the common prejudices held against them. And, as his career developed, and had to work with the mission leaders from all kinds of church traditions, he was able to reach out to almost any denomination.
Canon Needham had been looking for ways to raise the profile of Aborigines. With his leadership role at the National Missionary Council, he was in a strong position to help.

Canon Needham had been looking for ways to raise the profile of Aborigines. With his leadership role at the National Missionary Council, he was in a strong position to help.

Article from the SMH shows that Canon Needham was reaching out across the Protestant denominations to create a day of acknowledgement.

Article from the SMH shows that Canon Needham was reaching out across the Protestant denominations to create a day of acknowledgement.

There doesn't seem to be any record of Aborigines' Sunday being observed so soon after Cooper's first letter. But the idea slowly caught on. Needham arranged for the use of all pulpits on the Sunday nearest Australia Day. It would become known as Aborigines' Sunday, and was certainly being observed by the early 1940s. It seems that the idea caught on. Perhaps because there was, During World War II, an unusual amount of cooperation between the various denominations. The custom prevailed through the 1940s. In 1957 it was taken up once more by the churches, when prominent former missionaries set up National Aborigines Day Observance committee celebrated on the second Friday in July of each year. From the Aboriginal viewpoint, Australia Day was the more significant date and the 1957 decision to move the celebration to July was a mistake. 2
All Australian churches were asked to observe Aborigines' Sunday, as this article shows from Saturday 30 January 1943.

All Australian churches were asked to observe Aborigines' Sunday, as this article shows from Saturday 30 January 1943.

Article from 1952 showed that mainstream churches were at the forefront of advocacy for justice towards Indigenous people in Australia.

Article from 1952 showed that mainstream churches were at the forefront of advocacy for justice towards Indigenous people in Australia.

This strengthening bond with the churches was understandable. Ferguson's Aborigines Progressive Association and Cooper's Australian Aborigines' League had both been badly let down, by premiers and prime ministers. At the Fifth Annual conference of the Progressive Association held at Coonabarabran in 1941, the political connection between government, church and Aborigines was a major theme. Ferguson spoke denouncing the Welfare act, saying, "I think it's a dreadful bill." Michael Sawtell, the passionate unionist, spoke after him: "His high-pitched, flute -toned voice, clear and fresh in contrast to the flattish country accents, denounced the iniquitous apprenticeship laws for Aborigines. He felt that the politicians had failed and suggested (possibly as Doug Nicholls was a preacher now) that the churches might be a stronger ally. Werupon the speaker following him, a local Prespyterian minister, Rev. E. Graham, said: 'If the churches are destined to be a dominant factor in the life of the people, there is no room for special barriers." 3 And preach that day, Pastor Doug did. He marched on the spot to rouse the church militant. "We've met today to say good bye to compounds and reserves! We want to march with full citizenship rights, to progress!" 4

Revision Differences

2 April, 2013 @ 13:53Current Revision
Content
 +After some promising discussions with Prime Minister Joseph Lyons in the late 1930s, it became clear to William Cooper and his colleagues at the Australian Aborigines' League that the federal government was not going to do anything for the Indigenous cause. The cabinet was stonewalling the Petition to the King. The message came back to Cooper that the Constitution prevented them from making laws to improve the position of Aboriginal people.
 +From here, William Cooper began two initiatives. One short-term and provocative. That was the now-famous Day of Mourning, held on Elizabeth Street in Sydney on January 26, 1938. The other was a long-term idea. A national day of observation for which Cooper turned to the Christian churches. Originally known as Aborigines Sunday, it is today known as NAIDOC - a national celebration of Indigenous culture that is still widely celebrated.
 +It began with a form letter 5 that went to all the denominational heads:
 +<blockquote>W. Cooper Hon. Sec., AAL, 43 Mackay Street, Yarraville, 27 December 1937.
 +<strong>Australia Day 1938 Aborigines’ Day of Mourning</strong>
 +The Australian Aborigines’ Progressive Association of New South Wales has called on all aborigines in the advanced stages of civilisation and culture to observe a DAY OF MOURNING concurrently with the white man’s DAY OF REJOICING to celebrate the 150th year of the coming of the white man to Australia. The aborigines, by this means, hope to call the attention to the present deplorable condition of all aborigines, of whatever stage of culture, after 150 years of British rule. It is expected that such action will create such sympathy on the part of the whites that full justice and recompense will follow.
 +The “DAY OF MOURNING” has been endorsed by the Australian Aborigines’ League, the Victorian body, which also looks after Federal matters, and it is expected that meetings will be held an a number of places and suitable resolutions passed. This League now asks the Christian community to help us in another way.
 +We know that sympathy with the aborigines is widespread and growing and, because the aboriginal knows that the goodwill of the whiteman is essential to success they seek to justify the continuance of this sympathy. We now ask all Christian denominations to observe Sunday, 3rd January as ABORIGINES’ DAY. We request that sermons be preached on this day dealing with the aboriginal people and their need of the gospel and response to it and we ask that special prayer be invoked for all missionary and other effort for the uplift of the dark people.
 +We regret the unavoidable delay in submitting our request, which was not avoidable in all the circumstances, but we feel that a suitable notice from you in your church press will give that wide publicity that is so essential.
 +Very sincerely yours,
 +W. Cooper.</blockquote>
 +No doubt, many leaders responded. But the key relationship turned out to be the one between Cooper and Canon John Needham. Needham was the President of the National Missionary Council of Australia. It seems he'd had a long relationship with Aboriginal people - and was known for speaking against the common prejudices held against them. And, as his career developed, and had to work with the mission leaders from all kinds of church traditions, he was able to reach out to almost any denomination.
 +<a href="http:// towalkwithyou.com/wp-content/ uploads/2013/ 04/Trove-article17192424- 3-001.jpg"><img src="http://towalkwithyou.com/ wp-content/uploads/2013/04/ Trove-article17192424-3-001- 248x300.jpg" alt="Canon Needham had been looking for ways to raise the profile of Aborigines. With his leadership role at the National Missionary Council, he was in a strong position to help." width="248" height="300" class="size-medium wp-image-445" /></a> Canon Needham had been looking for ways to raise the profile of Aborigines. With his leadership role at the National Missionary Council, he was in a strong position to help.
 +<a href="http:// towalkwithyou.com/wp-content/ uploads/2013/ 04/article17660700- 3-001.jpg"><img src="http://towalkwithyou.com/ wp-content/uploads/2013/04/ article17660700- 3-001-176x300.jpg" alt="Article from the SMH shows that Canon Needham was reaching out across the Protestant denominations to create a day of acknowledgement." width="176" height="300" class="size-medium wp-image-449" /></a> Article from the SMH shows that Canon Needham was reaching out across the Protestant denominations to create a day of acknowledgement.
 +There doesn't seem to be any record of Aborigines' Sunday being observed so soon after Cooper's first letter. But the idea slowly caught on. Needham arranged for the use of all pulpits on the Sunday nearest Australia Day. It would become known as Aborigines' Sunday, and was certainly being observed by the early 1940s.
 +It seems that the idea caught on. Perhaps because there was, During World War II, an unusual amount of cooperation between the various denominations.
-Canon John Needham as President of the National Missionary Council of Australia arranged for the use of all pulpits on the Sunday nearest Australia Day. This custom prevailed in the 'forties, then faded out. In 1957 it was taken up once more by the churches, when prominent former missionaries set up National Aborigines Day Observance committee celebrated on the second Friday in July of each year. From the Aboriginal viewpoint, Australia Day was the more significant date and the 1957 decision to move the celebration to July was a mistake. 6 +The custom prevailed through the 1940s. In 1957 it was taken up once more by the churches, when prominent former missionaries set up National Aborigines Day Observance committee celebrated on the second Friday in July of each year. From the Aboriginal viewpoint, Australia Day was the more significant date and the 1957 decision to move the celebration to July was a mistake. 7
 +<a href="http:// towalkwithyou.com/wp-content/ uploads/2013/ 04/Trove-article17835090- 3-001.jpg"><img src="http://towalkwithyou.com/ wp-content/uploads/2013/04/ Trove-article17835090-3-001- 187x300.jpg" alt="All Australian churches were asked to observe Aborigines&#039; Sunday, as this article shows from Saturday 30 January 1943." width="187" height="300" class="size-medium wp-image-440" /></a> All Australian churches were asked to observe Aborigines' Sunday, as this article shows from Saturday 30 January 1943.
 +<a href="http:// towalkwithyou.com/wp-content/ uploads/2013/ 04/Trove-article47381357- 3-001.jpg"><img src="http://towalkwithyou.com/ wp-content/uploads/2013/04/ Trove-article47381357-3-001.jpg" alt="Article from 1952 showed that mainstream churches were at the forefront of advocacy for justice towards Indigenous people in Australia." width="169" height="253" class="size-full wp-image-442" /></a> Article from 1952 showed that mainstream churches were at the forefront of advocacy for justice towards Indigenous people in Australia.
This strengthening bond with the churches was understandable. Ferguson's Aborigines Progressive Association and Cooper's Australian Aborigines' League had both been badly let down, by premiers and prime ministers. At the Fifth Annual conference of the Progressive Association held at Coonabarabran in 1941, the political connection between government, church and Aborigines was a major theme. Ferguson spoke denouncing the Welfare act, saying, "I think it's a dreadful bill." Michael Sawtell, the passionate unionist, spoke after him: This strengthening bond with the churches was understandable. Ferguson's Aborigines Progressive Association and Cooper's Australian Aborigines' League had both been badly let down, by premiers and prime ministers. At the Fifth Annual conference of the Progressive Association held at Coonabarabran in 1941, the political connection between government, church and Aborigines was a major theme. Ferguson spoke denouncing the Welfare act, saying, "I think it's a dreadful bill." Michael Sawtell, the passionate unionist, spoke after him:
-"His high-pitched, flute -toned voice, clear and fresh in contrast to the flattish country accents, denounced the iniquitous apprenticeship laws for Aborigines. He flt that the politicians had failed and suggested (possibly as Doug Nicholls wa preacher now) that the churches might be a stronger ally. Werupon the speaker following him, a local Prespyterian minister, Rev. E. graham, said: 'If the churches are destined to be a dominant factor in the life of the people, tehre is no room for special barriers." 8 +"His high-pitched, flute -toned voice, clear and fresh in contrast to the flattish country accents, denounced the iniquitous apprenticeship laws for Aborigines. He felt that the politicians had failed and suggested (possibly as Doug Nicholls was a preacher now) that the churches might be a stronger ally. Werupon the speaker following him, a local Prespyterian minister, Rev. E. Graham, said: 'If the churches are destined to be a dominant factor in the life of the people, there is no room for special barriers." 9
And preach that day, Pastor Doug did. He marched on the spot to rouse the church militant. "We've met today to say good bye to compounds and reserves! We want to march with full citizenship rights, to progress!" 10 And preach that day, Pastor Doug did. He marched on the spot to rouse the church militant. "We've met today to say good bye to compounds and reserves! We want to march with full citizenship rights, to progress!" 11

Note: Spaces may be added to comparison text to allow better line wrapping.

Notes:

  1. Andrew Markus (ed) Blood From A Stone: William Cooper and the Australian Aborigines League (Monash Publications in History, Department of History, Clayton, 1986)
  2. Jack Horner, Vote Ferguson for Aboriginal Freedom, Australian and New Zealand Book Company, Sydney, 1974, footnote 8 on p181
  3. Jack Horner, Vote Ferguson for Aboriginal Freedom, Australian and New Zealand Book Company, Sydney, 1974, p99-100
  4. Jack Horner, Vote Ferguson for Aboriginal Freedom, Australian and New Zealand Book Company, Sydney, 1974, p99-100
  5. Andrew Markus (ed) <em>Blood From A Stone: William Cooper and the Australian Aborigines League</em> (Monash Publications in History, Department of History, Clayton, 1986)
  6. Jack Horner, Vote Ferguson for Aboriginal Freedom, Australian and New Zealand Book Company, Sydney, 1974, footnote 8 on p181
  7. Jack Horner, Vote Ferguson for Aboriginal Freedom, Australian and New Zealand Book Company, Sydney, 1974, footnote 8 on p181
  8. Jack Horner, Vote Ferguson for Aboriginal Freedom, Australian and New Zealand Book Company, Sydney, 1974, p99-100
  9. Jack Horner, Vote Ferguson for Aboriginal Freedom, Australian and New Zealand Book Company, Sydney, 1974, p99-100
  10. Jack Horner, Vote Ferguson for Aboriginal Freedom, Australian and New Zealand Book Company, Sydney, 1974, p99-100
  11. Jack Horner, Vote Ferguson for Aboriginal Freedom, Australian and New Zealand Book Company, Sydney, 1974, p99-100

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