I was standing outside my local café on Friday waiting for my takeaway skinny flat-white with one sugar to arrive. The weather was cold and wet, but the owner had turned on the outside overhead heaters and was ‘broadcasting’ hits from the 70’s – all designed to make our waiting just a bit more fun during lockdown number four.
My coffee arrived while Dusty Springfield was singing ‘Son of a preacher man’ so I stood for a while enjoying my coffee and the ‘blast from the past’. The whole experience lasted only a few minutes but enough to give me an idea for this article.
There’s been a few famous daughters as well as sons of preachers: Katy Perry, Tori Amos, Aretha Franklin, Margaret Thatcher, Alice Cooper, Denzel Washington, MLK jnr, the Wright brothers are just a tiny example. Oh, and Bob Hawke of course.
But the one I want to write about appears on our $50 note – David Ngunaitponi.
David Ngunaitponi, an Aboriginal man born on a Mission in the South East of South Australia, was an extraordinary person and worthy of so much more attention than I can provide in this short article. I can only suggest that you insert his name into a search engine and explore the internet for yourselves. His life story is so amazing it ought to be told through a full-length movie. He was nicknamed the “Australian Leonardo da Vinci’ for his many inventions, including his contribution to a pre WW1 helicopter. He designed its rotors on the principle of the boomerang. He was fascinated with the ides of perpetual motion.
He was the first Aboriginal writer to be published in English writing many articles about Aboriginal rights and traditional customs. In the early 1920’s he was commissioned by the University of Adelaide to assemble a book on Indigenous legends and storytelling. The College of Indigenous Education and Research within the University of Adelaide is named after him.
But sitting at the top of a significant list of achievements is that he was able to get Australians of his era to accept Aboriginal intelligence and to recognise the scientific knowledge that exists within the world’s oldest culture. Prof Bruce Pascoe, one of Australia’s best and most well known Indigenous authors ( Dark Emu etc) said of David Ngunaitponi: ‘His legacy paves the way for younger Aboriginal people to unearth the Indigenous science Australia has buried beneath a ton of denial’.
Reconciliation is more than Word, and one of the most fruitful actions we can take is to make time to read, investigate, learn and understand the stories behind people like the man on the $50 note.