Scholar, preacher, speaker, spokesman, musician, inventor. The man on our $50 note.

“You can play a tune of sorts on the white keys of the piano. You can play a tune of sorts on the black keys, but for harmony you must use both the black and the white.” David Unaipon.

And quite possibly the congregation in Wingham’s St Matthew’s Church of England in April 1925, heard those very words to encourage positive thinking amongst the local congregation to change peoples’ attitudes.

David Unaipon was born in South Australia, raised at the Port McLeay Mission. He played the organ in the mission and served there as a preacher. He frequently gave organ recitals of Mendelssohn’s masterpieces in Adelaide churches. He educated himself with theological works as well as evolutionist books written by Darwin, Wallace and Huxley. 

He travelled around the country preaching that in his view Christian principles had parallels with Aboriginal beliefs and myths.

The famous editor of the Wingham Chronicle, F.A Fitzpatrick (well-known for his intense interest and sympathy for Aborigines), wrote how Unaipon, also an avid inventor, claimed to have invented a means (based on the flight of a boomerang) by which aeroplanes could rise vertically from the ground.

Unaipon wrote for the Sydney Daily Telegraph and began to publish myths and stories based on legends of his own people. His “Native Legends” (1921) is considered to be the first book directly authored by an Australian Aborigine.

His aspirations led him in many directions. He was labelled in the press as “Australia’s Leonardo da Vinci.”

David Unaipon died, ironically in 1967, just before the referendum “Yes” vote which included Aborigines in the national census, therefore making all Aborigines Australian citizens. 

Since 1988 the David Unaipon Award – an annual literary competition – has honoured his memory with a prize for an unpublished book-length manuscript by an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander author. 

David Unaipon always spoke firmly that “colour and racial prejudice should be laid aside and equal rights given to black and white Australians.”

Compiled with permission from “Custodians of the Soil” by Manning Valley author, John Ramsland.

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