Uncle Boydie completes his dream

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Published in Monash University Online News Site

It’s taken 77 years, but one of Australia’s most extraordinary Aboriginal protests has been fulfilled – thanks in part to Prince William and the Governor General.

Alf “Uncle Boydie” Turner, 86, fulfilled a life-long dream by hand-delivering a letter and petition to the Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove, a copy of one originally drawn up by his grandfather, legendary Yorta Yorta activist William Cooper.

Uncle Boydie and the Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove meet. Source: D Jack
Uncle Boydie and the Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove meet. Source: D Jack

The petition protesting discriminatory policies against Aborigines in Australia, which was originally addressed to King George V, was rejected by the Australian government when Cooper tried to deliver it in 1937.

The interior minister at the time, Jack McEwan, said: “It is not seen that any good purpose would be gained by submitting this petition to His Majesty the King.”

But Uncle Boydie decided to try again in honour of his grandfather. His tireless work led to a 15-minute meeting with Prince William on his recent royal trip to Australia.

“I thought he’d be the stuffy type but he was a genuine bloke,” Uncle Boydie said

“He said that he would help me in any way that he could.”

And just a few weeks later, on May 27, Uncle Boydie drove to Canberra with fellow activists Abe Schwarz and Barbara Miller to hand his updated petition, with a new list of signatures, to the General Sir Peter Cosgrove.

In what Uncle Boydie described as an “excellent” meeting, Sir Peter Cosgrove warmly expressed his admiration for the achievements of both William Cooper and Uncle Boydie, and promised to do everything in his jurisdiction to deliver the petition to the Queen.

The meeting was supposed to last 20 minutes, however the Governor-General extended it to 45 minutes.

Uncle Boydie said he was “over the moon” as he had achieved as much as he had in honour of his grandfather.

The original petition advocated for direct representation in Parliament and improving the land rights of Aborigines. It was signed by 1814 members of the Aboriginal community.

William Cooper. Photo: National Film and Sound Archive
William Cooper. Photo: National Film and Sound Archive

Cooper left a remarkable human rights legacy. From Cummeragunja in southern New South Wales, he spent the majority of his life campaigning for better land rights for the Aboriginal community.

Instantly recognisable in photos by his thick white moustache and dandy dress sense, he has the unique distinction of being honoured by both the Jewish Holocaust Centre and the Koori Heritage Trust.

The Jewish Holocaust Centre recognises William Cooper for his protest against the atrocious treatment of the Jews in Nazi Germany during Kristallnacht. This is now widely acknowledged as the only private protest against the pogrom, and has now brought him international acclaim.

His protest was held on December 6, 1938, just a few weeks after Jews in Austria and Germany were subjected to a pogrom of devastating proportions – now called Kristallnacht or The Night Of Broken Glass – on November 9, 1938.Cooper and the delegation he founded, the Australian Aborigines League, empathised with their plight.

So, in the aftermath of Kristallnacht they passed a resolution to denounce the actions of the Nazi Party. They marched to the German Consulate in Melbourne and attempted to hand in a letter that detailed the resolution.

The then German Consul Dr Walther Drechsler would not accept the letter and refused to see William Cooper and his delegation.

This letter was also finally delivered decades later. The current German Consul in Melbourne, Michael Pearce SC, accepted the resolution on behalf of Germany in December 2012

Prince William meets Uncle Boydie and Abe Schwarts. Photo courtesy of Abe Schwarz
Prince William meets Uncle Boydie and Abe Schwarts. Photo courtesy of Abe Schwarz

“I feel like it’s an opportunity to honour the past. Seventy-four years ago the then German Consul should have accepted this letter and this resolution,” Mr Pearce SC said.

In 2009 Uncle Boydie and his daughter were flown to Israel where the Jewish National Fund planted five trees in commemoration of William Cooper. In 2010, 65 more trees were planted in his name in the South Australian Friendship Forest in the Negev.

The Australian-Israeli Chamber of Commerce has established a $1 million academic chair in his name.

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