Bill Onus

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"William Onus" redirects here. For the artist born William McLintock Onus, see Lin Onus.
Bill Onus
Born William Townsend Onus
(1906-11-15)15 November 1906
Cummeragunja, Australia
Died 10 January 1968(1968-01-10) (aged 61)
Deepdene, Australia
Cause of death Coronary occlusion
Nationality Australian
Ethnicity Wiradjuri
Known for Indigenous rights activism
Children Lin Onus

William Townsend Onus Jr (15 November 1906 – 10 January 1968), known as Bill Onus, was an Aboriginal Australian political activist.[1]


Early life and education[edit]

Onus was born at the Cummeragunja Mission to William Townsend Onus Sr and Maud Mary Onus née Nelson. His father was of Wiradjuri background and his mother of the Yorta Yorta people.[1]

He was educated at Thomas Shadrach James' mission school in Cummeragunja as well as spending two years at school in Echuca from the age of ten.[1]

As a teenager his family travelled throughout the Riverina while his father worked as a drover.[1]

Working life[edit]

At the age of 16 Onus left home to take up shearing, an occupation in which stayed for seven years.[1]

In 1928 Onus moved to Sydney where he initially worked at the Bankstown Aerodrome as a rigger. During the Great Depression Onus took a number of jobs, including prospecting and truckdriving.[1]

During the late 1930s Onus joined the Aborigines Progressive Association, later becoming secretary and becoming a full-time employee of the association.[1]

In 1936, Onus appeared in Charles Chauvel's feature film Uncivilised, then in 1937 had an acting role in Ken G.Hall's romantic melodrama Lovers and Luggers and this was followed by Onus' appearance in Harry Watt's 1946 classic film The Overlanders. In the mid-1940s Onus moved to Melbourne where he worked for a shipping company as a clerk.[1]

In 1949, Onus organised an indigenous revue which brought together traditional ceremonies and acts with more contemporary acts and indigenous artists. The revue was called 'Corroboree 1949' and was performed in Melbourne at Wirth's Olympia. The acts included Margaret Tucker, Edgar Bux, Miss Georgie Lee, May Lovett, Joyce McKinnon, Ted 'Chook' Mullett and his Gum Street Band. In 1951, Bill Onus and Doug Nicholls organised another indigenous revue entitled 'An Indigenous Moomba: Out of the Dark' which included indigenous opera singer Harold Blair and indigenous blues singer Georgia Lee in the line up. In 1955 Bill Onus suggested the name for the Moomba festival in Melbourne.[2][3] In 1952 Onus started business venture of his own - Aboriginal Enterprise Novelties - which produced collectables and souvenirs with Aboriginal motifs. By the end of the decade he had his own factory and shop. He became known as a boomerang thrower as he hawked his goods.[1]


Onus had roles in a series of Australian movies including Uncivilised (1936), Lovers and Luggers (1937) and The Overlanders (1946). He also appeared in the documentary Forgotten People (1967).[1]

In 1962 Onus was presenter of the Alcheringa documentary series on ABC Television.[1]


Onus died in January 1968 of a coronary occlusion.[1]


Eckersley, M. 2012. Australian Indigenous Drama. Tasman Press. Altona.

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Onus, William Townsend (Bill) (1906 - 1968)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. Archived from the original on 24 October 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-18. 
  2. ^ Dubecki, Larissa (8 March 2008). "Let's have fun, said some, and name a festival 'Up Your Bum'". The Age. p. 11. Retrieved 4 January 2014. An exploration of the murky etymology of what is possibly Melbourne's strangest festival, Moomba: What's in a Name?, comes to no definitive conclusions. Bill Onus, of the Australian Aboriginal League, is credited with coining the name in a 1951 play called An Aboriginal Moomba: Out of the Dark, but family members interviewed for a video installation say he took the term from a book of indigenous words in good faith. 
  3. ^ "Moomba". The Argus. 10 March 1955. Retrieved 4 January 2014.