This image shows a typed page from a formal petition to King George V (1865-1936) from the 'Aboriginal Inhabitants of Australia' requesting his intercession 'to prevent the extinction of the Aboriginal Race', to improve their conditions and give them a voice in federal parliament. The petition declares that their land had been taken and their legal status denied. This meant that the British colonisers of Australia had failed to fulfil both their moral duty and the instructions they had been given by the British administration to adequately care for the original occupants of the land.
- This petition provides compelling evidence of the powerlessness of Aboriginal people at the time it was written. Facing the indifference of state and Commonwealth Governments, the petitioners appealed to the crown to fulfil its historic, moral and legal responsibilities. The King, however, had no power under the Constitution to tell the Australian Government to act on the petition, and the Australian Government had no power to tell the states what to do.
- The authorities refused to facilitate the circulation of the petition because they claimed that Aboriginal people would not understand the meaning of the petition. This delayed its completion and compelled Cooper to spend four years travelling between Aboriginal reserves and settlements. He collected 1814 signatures and 'marks' (in cases where people were illiterate). Cooper saw the petition as a means of encouraging Aboriginal people to take political action.
- This petition was partly prompted by the belief of the Yorta Yorta Elder William Cooper (1861–1941) that an advocate was needed in the federal parliament to focus on the needs of Aboriginal people. Cooper claimed that the advocate, whether Aboriginal or not, had to be able to 'think black'. He also stated that the advocate had to be accepted by Aboriginal people as having knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal needs.
- The uncooperative attitude of Australian authorities towards this petition culminated in the Commonwealth government's decision in March 1938 not to send it to King George VI (1895 – 1952), on the grounds that no 'good purpose' would be served by doing so. Cooper, deeply disappointed after years of effort, was ignored and told that the question of the welfare of Aboriginal people was receiving 'sympathetic consideration' by the Commonwealth and state governments.
- In response to the petition, the solicitor-general, George Knowles (1882-1947), advised the Commonwealth government that the Australian Parliament had no constitutional authority to pass legislation to give representation to Aboriginal people living in the states.
- Until the Australian Constitution was amended at a referendum in 1967, the states had primary responsibility for Aboriginal affairs, and the Commonwealth government was only responsible for Aboriginal matters in the Northern Territory, the ACT and external territories. The majority of Cooper's signatories were from Palm Island in Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia. Fewer than 100 signatories were from the Northern Territory, New South Wales and Victoria.