On 16 January 100 years ago Thomas Cooley, a 34-year-old Aboriginal fisherman, rushed down Port Kembla beach after being called to help a woman who had been swept out to sea in a strong rip.
The swimmer, Mrs WT Hinton, was in some distress by the time Thomas reached her with his hauling line. Thomas managed to bring Mrs Hinton to shore and, with the assistance of those on the beach, the unconscious swimmer was revived.
For his heroism, Thomas Cooley, from Port Kembla, was awarded a Bronze Medal and Certificate of Merit from the Royal Humane Society of NSW in 1918.
Wollongong City Libraries’ Illawarra Stories Project will display photos of Thomas, the citation, and the medal and from Thomas’s heroic efforts on Port Kembla beach. The project includes an interview with Billy Cooley, of Wollongong, speaking about his life and connections to the sea and his extended Aboriginal family.
Manager Library and Community Services [Acting] Mark Norman said the Oral History Project aims to capture stories of everyday life in the Illawarra through interviews with people such as Billy Cooley.
“Billy is a descendant of Thomas Ulladulla and, like his great-great grandfather Thomas Cooley, he is also a ‘keeper of the ocean’. Many of Billy’s family have been professional fishermen using their local knowledge of the ocean to harvest and protect stocks of sea life using traditional practices and knowledge.
“The Illawarra Stories is an oral history project where we are capturing people’s recollections of life in the Illawarra.
“This is a new and growing area of our library services. We have collected many stories of people’s lives and many are equally as fascinating as the story of Billy Cooley.”
You can stream or download the interview with Billy Cooley from the Illawarra Stories website .