David Unaipon is one of the most interesting characters in Australian history. Sarah C and her Aunty Dorrie tell Panorama all about the man on the $50 note.
Sarah C has worked at Warwick Farm Enterpraise since 2008. She has had stints as both a cleaner and a lawn mower and thinks both jobs are great. She loves working at Enterpraise. She is also proud of one of her relatives, who is none other than David Unaipon, the man on the $50 note.
‘My family always told me that we were related to the man on the $50 note, but I just said “whatever” because I never used to believe it.’
Who is David Unaipon? Born in 1872, he is famous for being Australia’s first published Aboriginal author, among other things: Anglican lay preacher, poet, public speaker. He was a Ngurrendjeri man from the Port Macleay area in South Australia, which is also known as Rauken. When she was little Sarah actually lived in Tailem Bend which is the town in which David Unaipon passed away in 1967.
You can read a full biography of David Unaipon in the Australian Dictionary of Biography online, but to put it briefly he ‘confounded the current stereotypes’ about aboriginal people. He was what you might call a ‘renaissance man’, that is, a polymath, who was interested and proficient in a wide range of things. They called him the ‘black Leonardo [da Vinci].’
Here’s David (busy being brilliant).
According to Sarah’s Aunty Dorrie, ‘He was a very clever man, a very classy man and really stood out from all Nungas (Aboriginal people). White people liked him. He was very polite, wore a suit and a neck tie. People loved him.
‘Every Sunday for dinner’ says Sarah, ‘he would go to my Nanna and Poppa’s place for dinner. My Nanna would make a roast and would pick the vegetables from her garden. When David Unaipon was in town, he would bring a fish for my Auntie Beryl to cook for him.’
‘I have three aunties who would go to his house and clean the dishes and sweep the floors, but he wasn’t there all the time. He told Aunty Dorrie that he thought she did the best cleaning job,’ says Sarah who is no stranger to cleaning jobs herself!
When they were children, Sarah’s Aunties and Uncles would see David Unaipon’s tools and inventions (yes, he was a prolific inventor!) in his shed but they weren’t allowed to touch any of it. He did not think it proper for children to ask about things because ‘children are to be seen and not heard!’
How did he come to be so clever? David’s father James, himself a very accomplished man, was converted to Christianity. David used to tell people that the Bible was what enabled him to do the things he did.
Sarah and Aunty Dorrie tell the story of the Church on the $50 note. The front part of that church was built by Sarah’s great great grandfather and great grandfather. It had a trap door leading to a tunnel and David used to sit and study there for hours and hours. Later he would always be invited to speak at conferences, schools and universities.
Thanks also to Maria Jones of Enterpraise.
Australian National University, Australian Dictionary of Biography online
Quick Fact: The 18 dots on the Ngarrindjeri flag (shown above) represent the 18 tribes (Lakklinyeris) that make up the Ngarrindjeri Nation.
Learn more about Ngarrindjeri people and country at this web site:
There’s also an interesting publication which contains the Ngarrindjeri creation story called “Caring for Ngarrindjeri sea country and culture” here:
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