WRITER, INVENTOR AND PREACHER DAVID UNAIPON OF THE NGARRINDJERI PEOPLE helped to break many Indigenous Australian stereotypes. That’s why he’s featured on the $50 note.
Born at the Point McLeay Mission in 1872, next to Lake Alexandrina in the Coorong region, Unaipon was the fourth of nine children of mission preacher James Ngunaitponi and his wife Nymbulda.
Unaipon was educated at Point McLeay Mission School and became known for his intelligence. He left school at 13 to work in Adelaide as a servant to C.B. Young who encouraged Unaipon's interest in literature, philosophy, science and music.
In 1890, he returned to Point McLeay as apprentice to a bootmaker and was appointed mission organist. In the 1890s, he went to Adelaide but found his colour was a bar to jobs in his trade and became storeman for an Adelaide bootmaker before returning as bookkeeper in the Point McLeay store.
He was later employed by the Aborigines’ Friends’ Association as a deputationer, travelling (often refused accommodation) and preaching widely to support Point McLeay Mission but also lecturing on Aboriginal culture and rights.
Upaipon was also a prolific inventor, taking out numerous patents. (see Innovation). Obsessed with speaking correct, even classical, English, Unaipon was the first Aboriginal author to be published with a book on Aboriginal legends commissioned in the 1920s by the University of Adelaide.
From 1924 onwards, he wrote many articles for the Sydney Daily Telegraph. He covered topics from perpetual motion and helicopter flight to the need for Aboriginal rights.