"Firstly, the Aboriginal was deprived of everything, his country, the freedom to live his chosen way of life. But the greatest and most depressing loss of all was the loss of man's greatest and most treasured asset, the possession of pride. A man without pride is doomed to failure..." Revel Cooper, 1968
"As a child of about seven, I was ‘warranted’ to Carrolup Natives Settlement, West Australia. Those of you who have read ‘Child Artists of the Australian Bush’ will have some idea of the conditions that prevailed there.
I was anxious to learn and always had a soft spot for my elders, who were not as fortunate as I, to be able to have the opportunity to learn to read and write; and in dreams I promised myself my life would be a standard way above that which my less fortunate friends and relations had to bear.
At school I was taught to believe that I was equal to all men, and walked with confidence and pride towards winning for myself an honest and decent life.
I was literally thrown out of school at the age of fourteen, and I drove a sixteen-horse team on the Settlement for some time, before being sent out to farm for work. I was to be paid five pounds per week, plus keep. After three months of working from daylight to dark, I was given five pounds plus my walking ticket.
I returned to my home town, Katanning, West Australia, got a job on a farm, joined the local football club and was generally accepted by the white community.
One night when attempting to purchase tickets to the local picture show for myself and two of my Aboriginal mates, I was told I could go in, but not my friends. The result was that none of us got to see the show, as I refused to go in without my mates.
It was from that time on I became aware and more conscious of the discrimination towards Aboriginals, and began to expect and look for signs of discrimination, and became embittered towards the white society.
I was not born with an inferiority complex. I did not acquire one. I had one forced on me, and was made (by law) to accept this complex as my just lot..." Revel Cooper, Aboriginal Quarterly, 1968 [Article continued in right column]
Art from Western Australian Museum
A Time For Fulfilment
"Being a weakling I took to breaking the law and have been in and out of gaol repeatedly for a considerable number of years. Each time I would say this is the last time for me, and would be released with honest intentions of re-adjusting my life and have done quite well on several occasions.
I have had some wonderful opportunities to make good, but as usual the law comes nosing around, and I usually pull up roots and drift on.
With all farm work going over to mechanism one finds it hard to find employment. I found this more so when I had my driver’s licence suspended for being drunk. Without a licence no farmer would employ me.
I had no way of following up seasonal work, so I had to exploit my ability as an artist to win a crust.
When things got really bad, I never hesitated to help myself to other peoples’ belongings. The crimes I have committed were done without any feeling of committing a crime, or to do someone else an injustice. Rather, I used it as a way to get that which I required.
My case can easily apply to the majority of my people, and I for one can understand the white man’s animosity towards the black skin.
The white child is brought up to believe that black is dirt, and naturally when a child sees a black skinned person his first impressions are, there’s a real dirty person.
It’s usually explained to the child that’s the colour of the nigger’s skin. So we finish up with dirty nigger.
Yes, perhaps I have lived with a chip on my shoulder for most of my life, but the friction of time has just about worked that chip away, and I can now take a more mature view of the situation and can see that there’s a time for disappointments and a time for fulfilment.
Bearing a grudge against society attains you nothing except self-condemnation and degradation.
The Aboriginals are a docile race of people, people who know the true meaning of love, charity, equality and justice.
No matter what the future may be, be it grim, regardless of contempt, discrimination or degradation, we shall continue to wear a smile for you and the world around us."
"Perhaps I am a nut for giving my paintings away... I can't help it. I simply love giving things away, the pleasure I get out of giving surpasses all. If I could give a little happiness to someone else each and every day, there is no wonder why I too should be happy." Revel, writing to a friend in 1970s.