The wonder of little things by Vince Copley with Lea McInerney

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This new edition of Vince Copley's autobiography, edited for young readers, provides a personal account of what it was like as a young boy to grow up under the constant restrictions of the Aboriginal Protection Act. As a young kid on Point Pearce mission the fun was rousing around with siblings in a pedal car, lollies from the shop, catching rabbits, and hugs from aunties, but later as he grew older he became aware of categorisations of ‘full-blood’, ‘half-caste’, etc., things his mother told him to ignore, because ‘You’re as good as anybody else’.

Vince chose to go to St Francis school for Aboriginal boys, at a time before it became a place to send stolen children. It became a haven for him when his mother died, ‘another kind of family’. The bonds that united those boys held strong in later years when they encountered racist slurs. The call on the football field to ‘go back to your tree’ became a joke amongst the boys as they joked about ‘which is my tree’. Humour became a weapon of self-protection.

There were appalling moments in his life, like when his brother Colin died from infection after being turned away from the Maitland hospital which didn’t treat Aboriginal people. Vince himself was turned away from Ardrossan and Maitland hospitals before being treated at the Wallaroo government hospital for appendicitis. The harrowing significance of those events only sank in later.

Overall, Vince’s story is of the simple things that made up a good life despite adversity and racism. Thankfully there were so many good people that offered friendship, and a place to stay when he needed it. He seemed to have a natural understanding that resentment and anger would only give himself pain. Instead he responded with a happy open heart that connected with the right people.

Vince Copley became a champion footballer and a premiership-winning coach. The path was often difficult but his innate optimism and good cheer always held him up, so that looking back, he can revel in ‘the wonder of little things’. It is a very inspiring, uplifting life story of overcoming hardships and working with others to make things better.

This edition of Vince’s story is highly recommended for young readers. Older readers would be encouraged to read the more detailed The wonder of little things (2022).

Themes: Aboriginal people, Ngadjuri, Boys’ home, Resilience, Racism, Friendship, Football.

Helen Eddy