The Aboriginal Street Art Project has been named by locals as ‘Dana Djirrungana Dunguludja Yenbena-l’ which means ‘Proud, Strong, Aboriginal People’ in Yorta Yorta language. This project is aimed at celebrating and recognising the local Aboriginal history and culture within the region and also aims to connect the future new SAM with the Shepparton CBD.
The second mural of stage two will be featured on the Eastbank wall and will acknowledge local Aboriginal people who fought in war. The project is a partnership between Greater Shepparton City Council, Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation, Rumbalara Cooperative and Shepparton RSL.
The mural will feature Private Daniel Cooper who was a Yorta Yorta man and fought for Australia during World War I. Private Daniel Cooper died on a European battlefield in 1917. He was just 21 years old and is buried in Belgium. Daniel Cooper was son of Yorta Yorta man Uncle William Cooper and Agnes Hamilton. Uncle William Cooper was recognised during stage one of the Aboriginal Street Art Project and is featured alongside Sir Douglas Nicholls on the GV Water wall.
While this mural pays respect to Private Daniel Cooper, the overarching purpose of the mural is much broader as it recognises all local Aboriginal people who represented Australia in war. Private Daniel Cooper is a local symbol and represents a story that is unknown by many Australians.
Between 800 and 1000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders served during World War I. Because cultural identity was not recorded in enlistment records, accurate figures might never be known.
At the time of World War I, young men were flocking to enlist, however Australia’s Defence Act of 1903 actually forbade Aboriginal people from representing Australia in war. Many young Indigenous recruits however did slip through by passing as ‘non’ Aboriginal.
It wasn’t until October 1917 (during World War I), when recruits were harder to find and the Government was becoming desperate for numbers, that this requirement was relaxed a little. A new Military Order stated: "Half-castes may be enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force provided that the examining Medical Officers are satisfied that one of the parents is of European origin."
Newspaper reports from the war period suggest that over 100 men from Cummeragunja had enlisted. Some of these stories have been recorded as part of the Victorian Aboriginal WWI Service Research Project.
Once enlisted, Aboriginal servicemen were treated as equals. Their pay was the same and for perhaps the first time, they were generally accepted without prejudice.
But once World War I ended, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen once again faced discrimination in all areas of life. They were excluded from soldier settler land grants, denied membership of returned servicemen’s clubs and their names were not included on memorials.
Greater Shepparton City Council is very proud to be driving this project alongside the Shepparton RSL, Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation and Rumbalara Cooperative. Council is also proud to be making the Eastbank wall available for this project where the mural will be placed beneath the Aboriginal and Australian flags. The wall will be lit in red during the month of April in remembrance and acknowledgement of all local Aboriginal people who served in wars.
President of Shepparton RSL Robert Wilkie said “The Shepparton RSL is delighted to be involved with this Project. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have served in every conflict that the Australian Defence Force have been involved in and deserve to be recognised.”
Acting CEO Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation Damian Morgan Bulled said, “This mural recognises the local Aboriginal people who courageously put their lives on the line to represent their country in war. Particularly at a time during the earlier wars when the Australian Government wasn’t allowing Aboriginal people to represent their country. Private Daniel Cooper is an example of such courage and he is a symbol that represents all local Yorta Yorta people who bravely defended their land.”
Nephew of Private Daniel Cooper, Alf Turner said, “Uncle Dan was a courageous Yorta Yorta man who risked his life and never returned to the country he defended so bravely. Many other local Aboriginal people fought and I am glad they are finally being recognised for their courage.”
Mayor of Greater Shepparton City Council Kim O’Keeffe said “It is brilliant that organisations are working together on this incredibly important initiative which acknowledges local Aboriginal people for their efforts in war, particularly at a time when racism was restricting brave Aboriginal people from representing their own country.”
On 27 May 2018 at 11:00am, a dedicated service will take place at the mural to pay tribute to all local Aboriginal people who have fought in war.
Council will commence preparation for Stage 3 of the Aboriginal Street Art Project. Council is very excited about the next stage of this project and will also look to engage locals who are able to paint Aboriginal art murals. Council, with the support of both Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation and Rumbalara Cooperative, aims to tell local Aboriginal stories through the murals which will educate the community in relation to the local Aboriginal history and culture within the region.
More information regarding Private Daniel Cooper can be found here.