Mural Launch Recognises Indigenous Leaders

A pair of prominent Aboriginal elders have been immortalised in a street art mural in the northern Victorian city of Shepparton, as their families say it was about time they were recognised.


The nine-meter mural features Yorta Yorta men Sir Douglas Nicholls and William Cooper, and is part of Shepparton’s Aboriginal Street Art project.

Hundreds of people packed an alley in the city for the official launch of the project, which coincides with this week’s 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum to recognise Indigenous people as citizens of Australia.

Descendants of both men were delighted with the painting.

“I think it’s about time they were recognised for what they did for their people,” said Alf Turner, William Cooper’s grandson. “He’d be very embarrassed [to be on the wall] but I’m glad it’s happened after all this time.”

Bobby Nicholls, the nephew of Sir Douglas, said it was “another milestone for the recognition of indigenous people in the area”. The AFL’s Indigenous Round is named after Sir Douglas, who played for Fitzroy in the 1930s. He was a minister of religion and became governor of South Australia in 1970s — the first indigenous governor in Australia.

Before he became governor, he was a tireless campaigner for a “yes” vote in the 1967 referendum. “Some of the things he’s achieve in his lifetime, I don’t think I’ll ever see that again,” Mr Nicholls said. “We talk reconciliation today in the 21st Century. Back then he was doing reconciliation then.”

Sir Douglas’s daughter, Aunty Pam Pedersen, said it was “absolutely amazing” to see so many people honour the pair. “It’s just wonderful to look at these two warriors on the wall,” she said. William Cooper was a human rights campaigner who fought for Indigenous land rights and protested against the Nazis treatment of the Jews.


 PHOTO: “It’s about time they were recognised,” said Alf Turner, the grandson of William Cooper. (ABC News: Guy Stayner) Mr Turner said his grandfather was a quiet man who mainly worked on improving the lot of the Aboriginal people.

After a 1930 Nazi pogrom against the Jews known as Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass), Mr Cooper travelled to Melbourne to formally deliver a petition of protest to the German Consulate. This was the first protest ever for the rights of the Jews, worldwide. “He wasn’t very interested about what went on around the place, [but] if anything came up about Aboriginal people, he’d fire up a bit and argue the point or whatever he had to do,” Alf Turner said.

The Nicholls/Cooper mural will be the first of many street art projects celebrating indigenous contributions to life in Shepparton. The city has announced two prominent indigenous women will feature on a second wall mural to be commissioned later this year. The women will be chosen by local elders and will feature on a wall next to the mural of Sir Douglas and Mr Cooper.

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