Legislative Council: Tuesday, November 15, 2022


Vince Copley Memoir

The Hon. R.P. WORTLEY (15:24): My question is to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Will the minister inform the council on the recent launch of the late Vince Copley's memoir The Wonder of Little Things?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:24): I thank the honourable member for his question today. Last week, I was invited to and very privileged to be at the official launch of Vince Copley's memoir The Wonder of Little Things. The late Vince Copley, a Ngadjuri elder, was a fierce activist and a renowned sportsperson. His memoir, which was cowritten by Lea McInerney, is a reflection on Vince's time at St Francis House as a young boarder, particularly in the 1940s and 1950s.

St Francis House was a home for Aboriginal boys from 1946 to 1959. As I understand it, St Francis House was predominantly a home for Aboriginal boys from Central Australia as boarders, with the permission of their caregivers, with the intention of furthering their education in the city. However, I must emphasise there were Aboriginal children who were placed involuntarily at the home at the request of the government, as happened so often in decades gone by.

Over the forties and fifties, there were more than 50 Aboriginal boys who resided at St Francis House. Many, like Vince, went on to become household names across Australia and have had a significant impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights and affairs. Many also became very well known for their sporting endeavours. These included names like Charlie Perkins, an activist, soccer player and administrator. He was the first Indigenous Australian man to graduate with a tertiary education.

Gordon Briscoe was an academic and activist. In 1997, Gordon became the first Indigenous person to be awarded a PhD from an Australian university. John Moriarty, an artist, government adviser and the first Indigenous international soccer player, and Harold Thomas, an artist, activist, known and renowned for designing the Aboriginal flag.

The event, held at St Francis House last week in Semaphore South, was an opportunity to officially launch the memoir and, in addition, celebrate Vince's life and his experience at St Francis House. The event filled the Glanville Hall and included family, friends, local community members and former St Francis House residents like South Australian Aboriginal leader and stolen generations advocate Brian Butler.

It was also fantastic to see the Port Adelaide Mayor, Claire Boan, attend and speak at the event, reading out a few excerpts from Vince's memoir. However, a highlight I think for most people at the launch was hearing from Vince's daughter and niece, Kara McEwan and Patricia Waria-Read. It was exceptionally special to hear Kara's perspectives of her father and what the memoir meant to her. Kara spoke of her father's wisdom in the accumulation of little moments, decisions and experiences that shaped him into the man that he would become. It was a fitting insight into the title of the memoir, The Wonder of Little Things.

Nunga elder Patricia Waria-Read, who is the niece of Vince and sits on the City of Port Adelaide Enfield Aboriginal Advisory Panel, spoke of her uncle's passion for Aboriginal rights and the rights of cultural heritage. She reflected on his kind personality and the influence he had on shaping her as a leader within the community today.

Hearing from the co-author with Vince himself, Lea McInerney, provided an interesting insight into some of the elements—from Vince's perspective—that embedded the activism, competitiveness, success and achievement of many of the boys from St Francis House. In addition to the activism, there were reflections on Vince's exploits on the football field, particularly at Alberton.

Some weeks ago, I ambitiously bought a copy of Vince's memoir with an intention to read it very quickly, but I am hoping over the Christmas period I might actually find the time to do so, and I encourage other members who are looking for some Christmas reading to have a look at The Wonder of Little Things.