This record is a letter written by Yorta Yorta man William Cooper. He was a political activist and community leader who spent his life lobbying state and territory governments on behalf of First Nations people.
William Cooper was the founding secretary of a group called the Australian Aborigines League. This record, written on behalf of the League, is a special kind of letter called a circular. This means that it was sent to a large number of recipients: in this case, to leaders of Christian churches.
In the letter, William Cooper asks Christian leaders to preach sermons on Sunday 23 January 1938 in support of Aboriginal people. He also tells them about a protest that is being organised for 26 January 1938. He writes that Aboriginal people intend to ‘observe a DAY OF MOURNING concurrently with the white man’s DAY OF REJOICING to celebrate the 150th year of the coming of the white man to Australia.’
The 1938 Day of Mourning was the first national civil rights gathering organised by First Nations activists from different states working together. For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, 26 January remains a day to mourn and grieve the devastating impacts of colonisation.
Since 1994, the federal Government has marked 26 January as a nation-wide annual public holiday called ‘Australia Day’. It is a contested day on our national calendar, marked across the country in dramatically different ways, with some groups celebrating while others mourn or protest.