Audio Alf Turner remembers his grandfather, William Cooper, 2008

TLF ID R9395

This is an edited sound recording of Alf Turner, grandson of Indigenous activist William Cooper. Turner describes moving to Melbourne to live with his grandparents in about 1936 in the house then used for meetings of the Australian Aborigines' League (AAL). He recalls Cooper's frustration at the lack of results from the letters that he wrote to the government on behalf of AAL. He says that Cooper wrote the letters on his sickbed, wrapped in a blanket for warmth. Turner also recalls his own experience of racism as a child. The recording was made in July 2008.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This recording gives a firsthand account of the well-known Yorta Yorta leader William Cooper (1861-1941) from one of his grandsons, Alfred 'Alf' Turner (1929-). Cooper formed the Australian Aborigines' League (AAL) in Melbourne in the early to mid-1930s to campaign against racial discrimination and the denial of human rights to Indigenous Australians across the country.
  • Turner paints a picture of his grandfather in his house in the Melbourne suburb of Footscray. Turner recalls that AAL meetings were held in the house because Cooper, then more than 70 years old and unwell, 'couldn't get around much'.
  • The period described by Turner came after Cooper had settled in Melbourne in order to receive the aged pension, a right denied Indigenous people on reserves. Cooper had been living on the Cumeroogunga Aboriginal Reserve near Moama in New South Wales, where he spent much of the early part of his life and where his political activism began.
  • Turner also provides an insight into the mood of his grandfather during his greatest period of activism in the 1930s, after he moved to Melbourne. He describes how Cooper was 'very upset' that he seemed unable to gain government action on behalf of Indigenous people as a result of the letters he wrote. This, Turner recalls, was what Cooper talked about 'most of the time'.
  • Turner relates how there was 'a lot of that racism' against Aboriginal people in the 1930s. He recalls how some Aboriginal mothers, including his own, were told that their children were not wanted when they tried to enrol them at a particular school. However, Turner says that such racism would not occur today, and his grandfather would have been 'over the moon' to see how the treatment of Indigenous people has changed.
  • At the time this recording was made Turner was an Elder of the Yorta Yorta people, with traditional territory covering parts of northern Victoria and southern NSW. He was a witness on behalf of the Yorta Yorta people in a native title claim heard before the Federal Court in 1996-98. Judge Howard Olney (1934-) ruled that any native title entitlement had been 'washed away by the tides of history'. His ruling was upheld by the High Court in 2002.

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  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
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  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
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  • Name: Education Services Australia
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  • Person: Alf Turner
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  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
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  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
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  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
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  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
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Learning Resource Type
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