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Uncle Boydie’s Dream Fulfilled
Queen receives Cooper petition from Governor-General
On 5 August 14, the Australian Governor-General had a private audience with Her Majesty the Queen at Balmoral, England and handed her the replica of William Cooper’s 1930s petition. She was able to receive it as it was not a live petition but a historical document. Prime Minister Tony Abbott was supportive of the handover. Uncle Boydie had presented it to Sir Peter Cosgrove in Canberra in May this year. Cooper had tried to have it forwarded to the Queen’s grandfather King George V in the 1930’s. For Uncle Boydie it was mission accomplished to fulfill his grandfather’s unfinished business. The Governor-General, accompanied by Lady Cosgrove, was invested as a Knight in the Order of Australia by Her Majesty the Queen at the same meeting.
COVER FOR PETITION TO QUEEN ELIZABETH II OF ENGLAND 2013
Right a Historic Wrong, Complete Unfinished Business and Become a Part of History
The Aboriginal inhabitants of Australia respectfully petitioned King George V of England to prevent the extinction of the Aboriginal race and to grant Aborigines representation in Federal Parliament. They said that their lands had been expropriated and their legal status denied. By early 1935, nearly 2,000 signatures were obtained with most states represented. The final number was 1814 signatures – about 900 from Queensland, mostly from Palm Island, over 500 signatures from Western Australia, 350 from South Australia, 9 from the Northern Territory and a small number from Victoria and NSW.The petition was initiated in 1933 by Uncle William Cooper and the Australian Aborigines League, the first national Aboriginal organisation in Australia and based in Melbourne. William Cooper forwarded the petition to the Commonwealth Government in October 1937, requesting that it be presented to the King of England via Australian Prime Minister Joseph Lyons. The government informed Uncle William in March 1938 that they could not forward the petition to the King on constitutional grounds. Why? The Aboriginal petitioners were all subjects of the King but not citizens of Australia – having lost citizenship when Australian states federated in 1901.Not only did they lose their sovereignty, their land and their way of life to the new settlers, but the settlers were citizens and the original inhabitants were not! Also, Section 51 of the constitution meant that the Commonwealth Government had no authority to pass legislation for Aborigines, including legislation giving them representation in Federal Parliament. They only had jurisdiction over the Northern Territory.This began the struggle that eventually lead to the 1967 referendum which successfully changed the constitution so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people could be counted in the Australian census and the Commonwealth could have responsibility for Aboriginal affairs. It also led William Cooper to work with NSW Aborigines to hold the original Day of Mourning in Sydney on Australia Day 1938; and to talk the churches into holding Aboriginal Sunday in 1938, which became National Aborigines Day and eventually NAIDOC that we still celebrate today.
Alf Turner (Uncle Boydie) is the grandson of William Cooper and his dream is that his grandfather’s original petition be presented to the granddaughter of King George V, the present Queen of England. This would right a historic wrong. This is unfinished business. Friends of Uncle Boydie have teamed up to support him to gather 1,814 signatures from Indigenous people around Australia and their supporters and to have an audience with the Queen in 2014 to present the petition.
The original list of signatures has been lost in time. We know that time has moved on and we do have Indigenous representation in Federal and State Parliaments though not enough. Also, Indigenous people are not in threat of dying out as a race as some thought in 1938. However, Indigenous people are still dying about 20 years earlier than non-Indigenous people and much more needs to be done to close the gap on all socio-economic indices. Land and legal rights are still issues and we have the current Journey of Recognition to recognize Indigenous people in the constitution and remove racism. The basic essence of this petition is still relevant and it is a plea from Indigenous Australia down the generations that needs to be heard. Please sign it – to respect our elders and become part of history!
By Barbara Miller
UNCLE BOYDIE ACHIEVES HIS DREAMS
By Barbara Miller 30/5/14
Yorta Yorta elder Alf (Uncle Boydie) Turner fulfilled a long-held dream in Canberra this week by handing a petition to Sir Peter Cosgrove, the Governor General, on 27 May 2014, the 47th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum and the first day of Reconciliation Week. The Governor-General undertook to send a copy to the Queen. Abe Schwarz and I accompanied Uncle Boydie with David Jack on camera.
How the project started was that Uncle Boydie, David Jack and Norman and I were having discussions consulting on the manuscript of my book on William Cooper late in 2012 before it went to press. We were also planning the launch. I wanted to have it in Melbourne on Dec 6, the anniversary of William Cooper and the Australian Aborigines League’s walk from Cooper’s Footscray home to the German consulate and re-enact the walk. Uncle Boydie said he had a dream to hand a copy of William Cooper and the AAL’s letter of protest re Kristallnacht (the beginning of the Holocaust) to the German Consul and have it received because his grandfather’s 1938 letter and delegation was not received.
So, on my return to Cairns, I phoned the Michael Pearce, the Hon. Consul General and he was happy to do this but needed permission from the German Embassy in Canberra which he got the same day. I told Michael Pearce that I would like to have it at the exact location of the 1938 event and he found the address in Collins St which is now a law firm he has had involvement with. He got permission for us to hold the event outside and Abe got permission to use the building next door for a book signing with the main launch to be at the Jewish Holocaust Centre that night.
So with the help of Michael Pearce, Abe Schwarz, the Jewish Holocaust Centre, David Jack, myself and others, we had a large group of people re-enacting the walk from Footscray to the 1938 site of the German Consulate. We did not ask Michael Pearce to apologize but he took the opportunity to do so after Uncle Boydie handed over a copy of the letter from his grandfather. Tears flowed as Holocaust survivors and children of Holocaust survivors were in the group. It was truly an opportunity for healing and respecting the gravity of the occasion.
Uncle Boydie had fulfilled a dream to finish his grandfather’s unfinished business. At the same meeting in Melbourne prior to the book launch, he expressed his dream to fulfil another of William Cooper’s unfinished business. In 1937, William Cooper had presented a petition to the Australian Government led by PM Joseph Lyons which was addressed to King George V of England. It had been circulating since 1932 and amazingly for those days had 1814 signatures of Aborigines. It asked the King’s help to address the possible extinction of Aborigines, put an Aboriginal or sympathetic non-Aboriginal person in federal parliament to represent their interests, address loss of land and legal issues and to deal with what we know today as “Closing the Gap” of disadvantage.
It was never sent because, though Aborigines were British citizens, they were not citizens of Australia, having lost that at federation. This was one of the key motivators of the campaign that ensued to have Aborigines counted as persons in the census, not flora and fauna i.e. plants and animals. Also the campaign was for the federal government to be able to make laws for Aborigines as some state legislation was draconian. Usually conservative re referendums, the Australian people were very favourable with over 90% saying yes at the 1967 referendum after a 10 year campaign.
To fulfil Uncle Boydie’s dream, we got fresh signatures, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, on a copy of the original petition of William Cooper. It has been an 18 month project and Uncle really wanted to personally hand the petitions to the Queen in London. However, the Queen does not receive petitioners in audience and it was referred to the Governor-General to receive it and forward a copy
to the Queen. Prince William also gave Uncle Boydie an audience on Good Friday in Sydney where Uncle told him about the petition. This meeting occurred with the help of PM Tony Abbott’s office. Matt Busby-Andrews and Abe Schwarz accompanied Uncle Boydie with Robert de Young
Uncle Boydie now feels “over the moon”. He says that he has fulfilled the second dream he had of his grandfather’s petition going to the Queen, the granddaughter of King V it was originally intended
for as the Governor-General is her representative in Australia and will pass it on. It is largely symbolic but symbols are important too. Check my cover letter to the petition on my website as it explains its relevance now – http://barbara-miller-books.com/uncle-boydies-dream/. Abe and I adjusted it slightly and used it as the cover to the petition which Uncle gave the Governor-General. It also had a certified copy of the original petition from National Archives. The original signatures have been lost. It was bound with a photo of Uncle Boydie and King George v on the outside and a photo of William Cooper on the inside.
Notably, the petition was handed over not only on the 47th anniversary of the 1967 referendum but also the 47th anniversary of the re-unification of Jerusalem and Jewish access to the Western Wall,
a sacred site.
It was a privilege to be able to support such a dignified Aboriginal elder as Uncle Boydie (85 years old) to fulfil his dreams. Amazingly at a reception at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House the next day, Uncle Boydie was able to stand beside a large statue of King George V as he gave an address hosted by the museum and supported by Reconciliation Australia.