David Unaipon

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Wednesday, 31 August 2016
Published in Reading Australia

David Unaipon Wikimedia Commons 300David Unaipon (Wikimedia Commons)David Unaipon (1872–1967) was an Indigenous-Australian preacher, author, and inventor, whose contributions to science and literature helped overturn many of the prevailing negative stereotypes about Indigenous peoples in Australian society. In 1909 he developed a sheep-shearing device which was to be the basis for modern mechanical shears, and spent much of his life attempting to create a perpetual motion machine, among other inventions. He was the first Indigenous author to be published in English, for Myths and Legends of the Australian Aboriginals (1930), but was uncredited for his work. In 2001, the book was republished under the author's name as Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigines. His varied interests encompassed science and engineering, myths and legends, philosophy, theology, poetry, and Indigenous affairs. David Unaipon was born in South Australia at the Point McLeay Mission on the shore of Lake Alexandrina, into which the Murray River empties. The Mission is now known as the township of Raukkan. Unaipon is buried in its cemetery.

Reading Australia

Billy Griffiths, author and historian, has written on Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigines (1930) for ABR as part of the Reading Australia project. Click here to read his essay.

Further Reading and Links

Reading Australia teaching resources: Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigines (1930)

'Unaipon, David (1872–1967)' by Philip Jones, Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Unaipon, D. (2006) Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigines (originally published in 1930 as Myths and Legends of the Australian Aboriginals), Melbourne University Press (Miegunyah Press).

Unaipon, D. (2001) Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigines, edited by Stephen Muecke and Adam Shoemaker, Melbourne University Press (Miegunyah Press).

'The man on our $50, David Unaipon, was born on this day', Australian Geographic, 28 September, 2014

'On the Shore of a Strange Land: The story of David Unaipon' Radio National's Hindsight podcast, 11 July 2010

'The Australian Da Vinci: How David Unaipon (almost) changed our nation', Gizmodo, 18 March 2014

'An Aboriginal Intellectual', The Observer, 10 October 1925 (accessed via National Library of Australia's Trove)

David Unaipon's patent for an 'Improved mechanical motion device', lodged in 1910 with the Department of Patents, Commonwealth of Australia.

Daily Telegraph, 'Aboriginals: Their Traditions and Customs' by David Unaipon, 2 August 1924.

Gale, M. (2006) 'Giving Credit Where Credit is Due: The Writings of David Unaipon', in Gus Worby and Lester-Irabinna Rigney, eds., Sharing Spaces: Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Responses to Story, Country and Rights, Perth, API Network, pp 49-68.

Jenkin, G. (1979) Conquest of the Ngarrindjeri: The story of the Lower Murray lakes tribes, Adelaide, Rigby.

Jones, P. (1990), 'Unaipon, David (1872–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography 12, Melbourne, Melbourne University Publishing, pp 303-305.

Muecke, S. and Shoemaker, A. (2001) 'Introduction: Repatriating the Story', in David Unaipon, Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigines, edited by Stephen Muecke and Adam Shoemaker, Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, pp xi-xlvi.

Unaipon, D. (1954) My Life Story, Adelaide: Aborigines Friends Association.

Published in Reading Australia