• Bronze statue of William Cooper stands tall in Shepparton's Queens Park. (Catholic Education Office)Source: Catholic Education Office
A statue celebrating the life of Yorta Yorta man Uncle William Cooper has been unveiled in the town of Shepparton, Victoria.
Madeline Hayman-Reber

4 Apr 2018 - 12:07 PM  UPDATED 4 Apr 2018 - 12:18 PM

Uncle William Cooper, leader of the Cummeragunja Mission walk-off in 1939, will be forever remembered by the people of Shepparton with a 1.8 metre high, bronze statue.

The figure of the proud Yorta Yorta man, activist and human rights advocate, was launched last week in Queens Park.

“The unveiling of this statue today is a symbolic testament to Uncle William’s character, values, and enormous contribution to humanity and to the survival of the Yorta Yorta people,” Executive Chairman of the Kaiela Institute, Paul Briggs, said during the ceremony.

Uncle William was born in 1860, and over the course of his life dedicated his time to helping not only his local community, but the wider Aboriginal community across Australia.

“Uncle William was part of the establishment, and led the establishment, of the Aboriginal Progressive Association in 1937," Mr Briggs said.

“He led the first deputation to the Prime Minister to petition King George for the quarantining of lands for the survival of our people and for recognition of the rights of the Yorta Yorta people.”

But it wasn't just his own people that he was passionate about helping; the statue actually depicts Uncle William holding a petition defending the human rights of Jewish people in response to Kristallnaucht, "The Night of Broken Glass", when tens of thousands of Jews were arrested and taken to Nazi concentration camps.

Uncle William presented the petition to the German Consulate in December 1938, as an act of protest against the persecution of Jewish people at the hands of Nazi Germany.

"Uncle William’s advocacy and spirit was full of wisdom, bringing traditional values and experiences from his mother and Elders; while witnessing the war against the Yorta Yorta that was raging around him," Mr Briggs said.

"He developed a platform that is recognised nationally and around the world for the leadership that Yorta Yorta has delivered."

To build the statue, the William Cooper Memorial Committee was formed, led by the Director of Catholic Education Sandhurst, Paul Desmond.

The committee sought to fundraise in the Shepparton community, but it was a huge $30,000 dontation from Gandel Philantrophy that made the statue possible.

Hundreds of people attended the unveiling ceremony last week, including decendants of Uncle William, who not only witnessed the preservation of their ancestor, but the preservation of a hero.