Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian Leaders of the Past

In the #ChangeTheHeart Service in January 2022, Senior Aboriginal Christian Leader Aunty Jean Phillips called the Australian Church to acknowledge and honour the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian Leaders of the past.

This NAIDOC Week, we are taking up this call by highlighting some of the incredible Aboriginal Christian Leaders of the past who inspire us to “Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up!” today. Together let’s commit to learning their names and stories. 

May we follow the example of our past and present Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian Leaders as we continue to be compelled by our faith and put our Love into Action. 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are advised that this webpage contains images, names, and quotes of people who are deceased.


We will be adding profiles of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian Leaders onto this page throughout NAIDOC Week and beyond. 


Image: AIATSIS/Alick Jackomos Collection

Aboriginal Christian Leader William Cooper was an instrumental leader in the plight for justice, equality and full citizenship for Aboriginal peoples.

William Cooper asked Australian Churches to set aside the Sunday before January 26 as Aboriginal Sunday, a day for Christians to act in solidarity with Aboriginal peoples and the injustices experienced. This day was eventually moved to July and became NAIDOC Week.

William Cooper with others established the Australian Aborigines League, he petitioned King George V for Aboriginal representation in parliament, was part of the 1938 Day of Mourning protest, and also led a march against the abhorrent treatment of the Jewish people by Hitler and the German NAZI government.

May his immeasurable legacy inspire us to Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up! as we continue to act for justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today. 

Image: Sourced here

Aboriginal Christian Leader Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls was a professional athlete, pastor, social worker, and key advocate for equal rights and justice for Aboriginal peoples. 

Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls was a talented AFL player, playing for Northcote and Fitzroy in the Victorian Football League. As a young footballer, Nicholls was taken under the wing of his great-uncle and mentor William Cooper. Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls became the secretary, and later the president, of the Australian Aborigines League. Nicholls was also part of the Day of Mourning protest on the 26th January 1938.

Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls served the Aboriginal community in Fitzroy, Melbourne, as a social worker, and became pastor of the Fitzroy Church of Christ, the first Aboriginal Church of Christ in Australia.

Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls formed the Victorian Aborigines Advancement League in 1957 and was a foundation member of the Federal Council for Aboriginal Advancement in 1958.

In 1976 Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls was appointed Governor of South Australia.

The advocacy of Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls contributed to the success of the 1967 referendum. 

We thank God for Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls and we honour his contribution to the Australian Church and to the work of Reconciliation and justice for Aboriginal peoples. 

Image: Sourced here

Aboriginal Christian Leader Aunty Pearl Gibbs (Gambanyi) was a leading Aboriginal activist in the 1900’s, advocating especially for Aboriginal civil rights and the rights of Aboriginal women and children.

Aunty Pearl Gibbs was a key member of the Aborigines Progressive Association and was a lead organiser of the Day of Mourning protest in 1938. 

Aunty Pearl Gibbs campaigned against the discriminatory policies of the Aborigines Protection Board including the terrible conditions of Aboriginal people living on reserves and young Aboriginal women working as domestic servants. In 1954 Aunty Pearl became the first and only Aboriginal women to be given a seat on the Board. 

In 1956 Aunty Pearl Gibbs co-founded the Aboriginal Australian Fellowship which brought together Aboriginal people and non-Indigenous allies to campaign for equality and citizenship rights for Aboriginal peoples, including the right to vote. 

Aunty Pearl Gibbs' role in advocating for justice for Aboriginal peoples inspires us to Get Up! Stand Up! and Show Up! this NAIDOC Week.

Image: Sourced here

Aboriginal Christian Leader Pastor Don Brady was a Methodist pastor, political activist and proud cultural man. 

Pastor Don Brady grew up on Palm Island, and undertook theological training with the Aborigines Inland Mission and the Methodist College. In 1964 Pastor Don Brady moved to Brisbane (Meanjin) to Pastor the West End Methodist Mission. 

Pastor Don Brady was a key Aboriginal leader working with the Aboriginal community in Brisbane, serving practically and leading political actions to fight against discriminatory policies including the Queensland Aborigines Act. He was instrumental in conducting a march to mourn and remember Aboriginal people killed since colonisation/invasion, including those who died in frontier wars with little recognition. 

Pastor Don Brady proudly embraced Aboriginal cultural expressions, forming the Yelangi dance group and teaching people how to make traditional Aboriginal artefacts. In 1970 he helped form the Brisbane Tribal Council, which promoted Aboriginal cultural identity and preserved cultural practices. 

Pastor Don Brady was compelled by his faith to boldly advocate for Aboriginal rights and we thank God for his leadership.


Go Deeper, learn more:

William Cooper

Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls

Aunty Pearl Gibbs

Pastor Don Brady

Go back to the NAIDOC Week 2022 webpage here

We thank and acknowledge ACCTV for filming and editing the above video as part of their partnership with Common Grace in supporting Aunty Jean Phillips' #ChangeTheHeart Service.