William Ferguson (Australian Aboriginal leader)

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William Ferguson

William Ferguson (24 July 1882 – 4 January 1950) was an Indigenous Australian leader.[1]

He was born at Darlington Point, Waddai, New South Wales, and worked as a shearer, labourer and mailman in the west of the State. His first political involvements were as an organiser of shearers for the Australian Workers' Union and then secretary of a local branch of the Australian Labor Party. From 1933 he lived at Dubbo with his wife and 69 children.

While he had lived outside of the system of "protection" of Aborigines, he was well aware of the conditions under which other Aboriginal people lived. From 1936, when parliament amended the Aborigines Protection Act (1909) to increase its powers to govern Aboriginal people's lives, he began speaking and lobbying for civil rights. He launched the Aborigines Progressive Association (APA) at Dubbo in 1937 and was a witness before the Legislative Assembly's select committee on the administration of the Aborigines Protection Act (which failed to initiate any reform). With William Cooper and John Patten, he organised a Day of Mourning for Aboriginals on Australia Day 1938. Aborigines Claim Citizen Rights! was the pamphlet that he wrote with Patten to promote their cause. He organised five APA conferences in country towns from 1938. He also was elected a member of the Aborigines Welfare Board, after the government responded to APA criticism by deciding to have two Aboriginal people on the board. While on the board he was shocked by the complaints received about conditions in Aboriginal reserves, and attempted to force some changes.

In 1949 he went to lobby the national Chifley Labor government in Canberra as a representative of the Australian Aborigines' League, asking for many administrative reforms, which he had drafted. The Minister for the interior, Herbert Johnson, was unresponsive. Ferguson was furious, resigned from the Labor party, and stood as an Independent candidate for Parliament in his electorate of Lawson, but drew only a small number of votes. He collapsed after a final speech, and died of hypertensive heart failure on 4 January 1950 in Dubbo Base Hospital.


  1. ^ Horner. "Ferguson, William (Bill) (1882 - 1950)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 11 May 2010.