NAIDOC Week 4-11 July 2021: Heal Country, Heal Our Nation.

3 July 2021

4.4 MINS

Father of NAIDOC

William Cooper is the father of NAIDOC. The National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee came about because a committed Aboriginal Christian named William Cooper persuaded the churches to institute Aboriginal Sunday, which later became Aborigines Day, a secular observance, and later NAIDOC Week.

William Cooper was a Yorta Yorta man from the Murray River area who lived from 1861-1941. He wrote in the Melbourne Herald in 1937:

“We are human. We may be uneducated by white standards: we are fully educated by our own. I do not know whether all coloured people are the same, but we have a very high moral code and the principles of Christianity are part of our life.”

Secrets and Lies bookMy book White Australia Has A Black History is devoted to his story, and my latest book Secrets and Lies: The Shocking Truth of Recent Australian Aboriginal History, A Memoir has one chapter that briefly tells his story and of visits by Norman and me to his country and his people to get a feel for his life firsthand. It launches on Amazon today, 3 July, in time for NAIDOC.

Coming of the Light

It is also very significant that it is the 150th anniversary of the Coming of the Light to the Torres Strait. For many years, this event has been celebrated on 1 July on the anniversary of the London Missionary Society coming to Darnley Island or Erub, and then from there it spread out to other islands.

We usually join the commemorations in Cairns and in 2006, Norman and I hosted a conference on Darnley Island where we commemorated the Coming of the Light and the Lord moved in amazing ways. We have a report on that, and I mention it briefly in Secrets and Lies.

History of Aboriginal Sunday to NAIDOC

William Cooper got the National Missionary Council to promote an annual Aboriginal Sunday, the first of which was on 28 Jan 1940. This was to share about Aborigines and pray for the success of missions and other measures “for the uplift of dark people”.

Cooper met with Prime Minister Lyons, petitioned the King of England and constantly wrote to the media and MPs. He led a National Day of Mourning on 26 Jan 1938 for the 150th anniversary of white settlement, because the government would not send his petition to the King, giving the reason that Aboriginals were not citizens. The petition asked for better treatment of Aboriginals and a voice in Parliament.

Aboriginal Sunday, as a national day of observance for Aboriginal people ran from 1940 to 1954, being held the Sunday before Australia Day. In 1955, the date changed to the first Sunday in July and became known as National Aborigines Day.



In 1957, the National Aborigines Day Observance Committee (NADOC) was formed, whose goal was to promote awareness of Aboriginal people, their cultures and their plight. In 1989, the title changed to NAIDOC Week to include Torres Strait Islanders in the national celebrations.


Posters and Themes

In the late 1960s, posters began to be developed for each NADOC celebration with titles reflecting the social debates of the day, e.g. Cultural Revival is Survival (1978), White Australia has a Black History (1987), Bringing Them Home (1998), Gurindji, Mabo, Wik — Three Strikes for Justice (1997) and Treaty — Let’s Get it Right (2001).

There is a yearly Indigenous art competition for the NAIDOC poster.

The last 10 years of national NAIDOC themes show us Indigenous concerns:

  • 2020 ~ Always Was, Always Will Be (“Aboriginal land” finishing this statement)
  • 2019 ~ Voice, Treaty and Truth
  • 2018 ~ Because of Her We Can. (Remembering the role of women)
  • 2017 ~ Our Languages Matter
  • 2016 ~ Songlines: The Living Narrative of our Nation
  • 2015 ~ We all Stand on Sacred Ground: Learn Respect and Celebrate
  • 2014 ~ Serving Country: Centenary and Beyond
  • 2013 ~ We Value the Vision: Yirrkala Bark Petitions 1963
  • 2012 ~ Spirit of the Tent Embassy: 40 Years On
    NAIDOC Awards Ball 2017

    Norman, Barbara and Pat Dodson at the NAIDOC Awards Ball 2017.

Different cities host the National National NAIDOC Awards, with Cairns being the host city in 2017, enabling Norman and me to attend the NAAIDOC Ball.

2021 NAIDOC Theme

The theme of NAIDOC for 2021 is Heal Country, Heal Our Nation.

In 2005, Norman and I were led by the Lord to hold a conference in Uluru called Healing the People, Healing the Land, based on 2 Chronicles 7:14 and Psalm 24:7. Part of the vision was to heal tribal divisions, heal relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, cleanse the land spiritually through repentance and calling God to take His rightful place in our nation from the heart of the land, which we sensed was the Indigenous gate. We have reports and videos on that for those interested.

The official statement regarding this year’s NAIDOC theme is:

“Country is inherent to our identity. It sustains our lives in every aspect — spiritually, physically, emotionally, socially, and culturally. It is more than a place. When we talk about Country it is spoken of like a person. Country is family, kin, law, lore, ceremony, traditions, and language. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples it has been this way since the dawn of time…

We have continued to seek greater protections for our lands, our waters, our sacred sites and our cultural heritage from exploitation, desecration, and destruction. We are still waiting for those robust protections.

Healing Country means hearing those pleas to provide greater management, involvement, and empowerment by Indigenous peoples over country. Healing Country means embracing First Nations’ cultural knowledge and understanding of Country as part of Australia’s national heritage. That the culture and values of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders are respected equally to and the cultures and values of all Australians. The right to protect Country and culture is fundamental…

Our lands will continue to burn from bushfires, droughts will continue to destroy our livelihoods, without using traditional practices that have protected this country for centuries…

Healing Country is more than changing a word in our national anthem — it is about the historical, political, and administrative landscapes adapting to successfully empower and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, nations, and heritage.

We are all looking for significant and lasting change. We cannot afford to let pass the very real opportunity that now presents itself for reform based on a fundamental change in the relationship Australia has with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”

To see the full statement, click here.

God is the Healer

While we support these initiatives and Norman has been invited to open the Cairns NAIDOC Week commemoration for a number of years now, it is only God who can bring true healing to the people and healing to the land (country).

“If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
~ 2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV

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One Comment

  1. John coverdale 5 July 2021 at 2:55 pm - Reply

    We need to dig a little deeper with William Coopers story and acknowledge Daniel Matthews the missionary at that time who told William the Good news of Christ and that true justice for All people groups is written in Christian Scriptures. Daniel Matthews was true servant who rescued many aboriginal people from horrific situations.

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