Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Mystique of David Unaipon



The Mystique of David Unaipon

By Reiko Arisugawa-Bell
The Spirit News
September 28, 2077


David Unaipon (born David Ngunaitponi) (28 September 1872 – 7 February 1967) was a well-known Indigenous Australian of the Ngarrindjeri people, a preacher, inventor and writer. Unaipon's contribution to Australian society helped to break many Indigenous Australian stereotypes, and he is featured on the Australian $50 note in commemoration.

Born at the Point McLeay Mission on the banks of Lake Alexandrina in the Coorong region of South Australia, Unaipon was the fourth of nine children of James and Nymbulda Ngunaitponi. Unaipon began his education at the age of seven at the Point McLeay Mission School and soon became known for his intelligence, with the former secretary of the Aborigines' Friends' Association stating in 1887: "I only wish the majority of white boys were as bright, intelligent, well-instructed and well-mannered, as the little fellow I am now taking charge of."

Unaipon left school at 13 to work as a servant for C.B. Young in Adelaide where Young actively encouraged Unaipon's interest in literature, philosophy, science and music. In 1890, he returned to Point McLeay where he apprenticed to a bootmaker and was appointed as the mission organist. In the late 1890s he travelled to Adelaide but found that his colour was a bar to employment in his trade and instead took a job as storeman for an Adelaide bootmaker before returning to work as book-keeper in the Point McLeay store.

On 4 January 1902 he married Katherine Carter (née Sumner), a Tangane woman. He was later employed by the Aborigines' Friends' Association as a deputationer, in which role he travelled and preached widely in seeking support for the Point McLeay Mission. Unaipon retired from preaching in 1959 but continued working on his inventions into the 1960s.

An interpretive dance based on Unaipon's life, Unaipon, was performed by the Bangarra Dance Theatre, while the David Unaipon Literary Award is an annual award presented for the best of writing of the year by unpublished Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors.

The David Unaipon College of Indigenous Education And Research at the University of South Australia is named after him, as is Unaipon Avenue in the Canberra suburb of Ngunnawal. 21 years after Unaipon's death in 1988, the annual national David Unaipon Award was established for unpublished Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers.