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Ngadjuri elder and activist, Vincent Copley (1936-2022), was in residential care as a child. 

Vince Copley was born in 1936 in Point Pearce in South Australia. His family links include the Ngadjuri, Narangga, Ngarrindjeri and Kaurna people. 

Copley’s father died when he was two years old. At the age of ten, Copley’s mother took him to live at St Francis House, Semaphore South. 

 That home was the most successful Aboriginal home in Australia because we had three university graduates, one secretary of an Australian federal department, football stars, soccer stars, we had heroes and we had artists and we had just ordinary people (Copley). 

At St Francis, Vince got to know other Aboriginal Australians who also went on to become prominent activists, including Charlie Perkins and Gordon Briscoe.  

Even though it was a difficult place, people were able to survive and be leaders and the beginning of the Aboriginal Affairs came from those boys – they were involved in setting the national committees and in the freedom ride, and tent embassy, and changes to government policies in relation to Aboriginal affairs, the changes to things that made it better for Aboriginal people around Australia (Copley). 

Vince Copley was familiar with racism as a child, but as other migrants came to live in the Port Adelaide area, white Australians turned on them. 

It was bad enough for us, but to see kids getting scruffed around because they had different clothes and had different food for lunch, that was terrible (Copley). 

Copley’s early career was as a sportsman and sports administrator, organising national and international cricket programs for Aboriginal Australians. In 2000 he was appointed Co-Chair to the National Indigenous Cricket Advisory Council. In recognition of his contributions to Cricket Australia, The Vince Copley medal is awarded annually to recognise the ‘most outstanding cricketer’ at the Lord Taverner’s Statewide Indigenous Carnival.  

Copley worked tirelessly throughout his life to advocate for Aboriginal rights. He collaborated with other prominent activists to overturn racially discriminatory legislation associated with the Welfare Board in South Australia, and to establish the South Australian Lands Trust. Copley also campaigned for marriage law reform and contributed to Native Title claims for the Narangga and Kaurna groups.  

 Copley was awarded as a member of the Order of Australia in 2014 for his service to the Indigenous community in promoting social, legal, and economic rights and cultural identity. 

In his later years, Copley advocated to overturn an embargo preventing posthumous access to the fieldnotes of anthropologists, Professor Ronald Berndt, and his wife, Dr Catherine Berndt. Copley’s grandfather, Barney Waria (1873-1948) shared stories about his land, his people, and his culture with the Berndts, who made international names for themselves from their writing about Aboriginal Australians. Copley desired access to these records to learn about his father, his ancestors, and increase his understanding of his cultural knowledge and identity.    

Copley spent his final months with family and friends in Goolwa, along the Murray River, south of Adelaide. He passed away at home surrounded by family in January 2022. A funeral was held in Port Adelaide, at St Paul’s Church, where Copley had been a choir boy. According to his daughter, Kara, who gave a eulogy,  

“He was just a good mate to so many people, and that was apparent to me at his funeral. There were so many of us sitting there together, and we all knew each other and we were all there because we loved this one guy.” (Burnett, 2022) 


Vale Vincent Copley.” Port Adelaide Football Club, 13 January 2022. 

Burnet, Adam.  “The wonderful world of the late Vincent Copley.” Cricket Australia, 2 February 2022. 

Jenkins, Eleanor. “Copley, Vincent.” Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology. New York: Springer, 2014. 

Jan Mayman, “I want to tell my children: The history hidden in Berndt’s notebooks.” Sydney Morning Herald, 16 December 2018. 

 Smith, Claire. “A Culture of Community.” Flinders University, 2019. 

Smith, Mark J. “St Francis House: Excellent sought and achieved.” Alice Springs News, 3 May 2019. 

“St Francis House (1946 – 1961).” Find & Connect, 2020. 

“Vincent Copley.” The Conversation. 

Image available here.