The unveiling of the William Cooper memorial statue at Queen’s Gardens in Shepparton yesterday was a significant moment for our community.
The impressive 1.8m bronze statue depicts Mr Cooper holding paper, which signifies the many petitions and letters he wrote in regards to the advancement of Aboriginal people, and in the other hand, a eucalyptus branch symbolising connection to the land from where he came.
It was a project that was many months in the making, after being commissioned by the William Cooper Memorial Committee.
It is undoubtedly a project that is befitting of his life and the legacy he has left.
William Cooper was responsible for the establishment of NAIDOC Week, established the Aboriginal Advancement League, promoted Aboriginal representation in parliament, and launched a petition to the German Consulate decrying the persecution of Jews several weeks after Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany.
He worked tirelessly for Aboriginal rights, especially land rights, lobbying and organising petitions, and securing meetings with governments.
At yesterday’s event, Shepparton Aboriginal leader Paul Briggs spoke about Mr Cooper’s character, values and the difference he had made for his people, and how his legacy could be continued.
But Mr Briggs also spoke about the issues still faced by Aboriginal people, and how there was a long way to go to address them.
The unveiling of the statue was the culmination of the project designed to appropriately honour Mr Cooper’s significant contribution.
And it is further evidence of the way our community is continuing to acknowledge the contributions of a number of Aboriginal people over time.
Shepparton’s Aboriginal Street Art project has seen William Cooper, Doug Nicholls, Margaret Tucker and Nora Charles honoured as inspiring leaders and activists.
And what comes with that is the continued opportunity to use these initiatives as a learning experience, to further educate our community about our shared history.
The murals, and now the statue, provide a chance for us to pause, reflect and acknowledge the enormous contributions these people have made.