A community campaign has successfully pushed for the Melbourne electorate of Batman to be renamed Cooper after Yorta Yorta political activist and Aboriginal community leader William Cooper.
The electorate had been named after Melbourne founder John Batman, who was involved in massacres of Aboriginal people in Tasmania before he “bought” land around Port Phillip Bay from the Wurundjeri people.
As a member of the Australian Workers' Union, Cooper fought for the dispersed Aboriginal communities of central Victoria and western New South Wales who were ineligible for any aid during the 1920s drought and the 1930s Depression.
Cooper helped establish the Australian Aborigines League in 1935 and as its secretary organised a petition to King George V for direct Aboriginal representation in parliament, enfranchisement and land rights. But the Commonwealth declined to either forward his petition to the king or seek the constitutional amendment necessary to enfranchise Aborigines.
Cooper was effective in securing face-to-face meetings with governments. In 1935, he was part of the first aboriginal deputation to a Commonwealth minister and, in 1938, the first deputation to the Prime MInister. But nothing came of either meeting.
Seeing the futility of petitions and meetings with government, the Australian Aborigines League joined forces with Jack Patten and William Ferguson from the Aborigines Progressive Association to demand full citizenship and equal rights. Cooper was instrumental in staging a Day of Mourning on January 26, 1938, at the Australian Hall in Sydney to commemorate the sesquicentenary of colonisation.
At the Day of Mourning, Cooper said: "Now is our chance to have things altered. We must fight our very hardest in this cause. I know we could proudly hold our own with others if given the chance. We should all work in cooperation for the progress of Aborigines throughout the Commonwealth."