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Coolbaroo Club

The Coolbaroo League (also Coolbaroo Club) was a Western Australian Aboriginal social club. ... The club was founded in 1946 by returned Aboriginal soldiers, and ceased in the early 1960s. Between 1954 and 1957, it published the Westralian Aborigine.

In 1996, a documentary was made about the club. The film's summary stated, "Coolbaroo was the only Aboriginal-run dance club in a city which practised unofficial apartheid, submitting Aboriginal people to harassment, identity cards, fraternisation bans and curfews."
Despite the success of lessening restrictions in the 1954 Native Welfare Act, conditions in Perth were still problematic for the majority of Aboriginals living in the metropolitan area.

David Whish-Wilson:
... the emergence of the East Perth-based Coolbaroo League in 1947 appears nothing less than miraculous. The league was formed by two Yamatji returned servicemen, Jack and Bill Poland; a white returned serviceman, Geoff Harcus; and Helena Murphy from Port Hedland, whose progressive father Lawrence Clarke had formed the Euralian Club in 1934 to promote a similar culture of understanding and tolerance. With the support of Nyungar elders Bill Bodney, Thomas Bropho and Bertha Isaacs, together with younger activists Ronnie Kickett, Manfred Corunna, George Abdullah and George Harwood, the league chose the Coolbaroo, or magpie (kulbardi in Nyungar), as its emblem, suggestive of both the ‘mixed race' status of many of its members and the first notions of a creed of reconciliation between white and black.
Without the permission of the Native Affairs Department, the Coolbaroo League held the first Coolbaroo Club dances in the basement of the offices of the Modern Womens Club in central Perth (started by Katharine Susannah Prichard). However, because the building was within the curfew line, the dances were poorly attended. The next dances were held at the Pensioners Hall near the railway station in East Perth. The club, which was the subject of a documentary Kinnane made in 1996, soon became popular as a meeting place for progressive whites and Nyungar and other Indigenous people from across the state – many of whom were inmates released from the Moore River and Carrolup missions, where so many Stolen Generation children were taken. The league published a newspaper, the Westralian Aborigine, did its own fundraising and became a forerunner of many Aboriginal organisations that exist today. When the government finally rescinded the pass laws in 1954, the league was able to hold the club's dances in the centre of the city after dark – at the Perth Town Hall.

References and Links

Delmege, Sharon 2014, 'From camp life to suburbia: Aboriginal housing in Perth', Australian Historical Studies, vol. 45, issue 3, September: 368-38.

Kinnane, Stephen 1996, The Coolbaroo Club, script for the documentary.

Kinnane, Stephen 2003, Shadow Lines, FACP.

Whish-Wilson, David 2013, Perth, NewSouth, UNSW, Sydney.

Garry Gillard | New: 15 January, 2023| Now: 11 December, 2023