A life-size statue of the father of NAIDOC – Aboriginal activist and human rights advocate William Cooper – captures him doing what he was best known for: standing up for the wronged and persecuted.

The 1.8m-high bronze artwork was unveiled in Shepparton in northern Victoria last week.

Sculpted by Melbourne artist Pamela McKillop, it depicts Mr Cooper in one of his humanitarian acts — holding a petition defending the rights of Jewish people in Nazi Germany.

Yorta Yorta Aboriginal leader Paul Briggs said the statue was testament to Mr Cooper’s character and his contribution to humanity and the survival of the Yorta Yorta people.

Born in 1860, Mr Cooper fought tirelessly for the rights and dignity of people of all races, religions and status. He died in 1941.

Mr Briggs said Mr Cooper’s many accomplishments included being involved in the establishment of the activist organisation, the Aboriginal Progressive Association, in 1937.

“He led the first deputation to the Prime Minister to petition King George for the quarantining of lands for the survival of our people and for recognition of the rights of the Yorta Yorta people,” Mr Briggs said.

“During this time, he also felt the destruction of humanity and on December 6 1938 he led a deputation to the German Consulate in Melbourne to protest the atrocities and persecution of the Jewish people by the Nazi Government of Germany.

“This was before any other world leader was to publicly condemn Germany for their actions.

“This statue talks to us of a special man.”

Mr Cooper is also recognised as the father of the National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) and the Australian Aborigines’ League.

The statue was funded by the people of Shepparton and Melbourne billionaire John Gandel’s philanthropic group, Gandel Philanthropy.

It stands in Shepparton’s Queens Gardens.

Director of Catholic Education Sandhurst Paul Desmond led the campaign to honour the local hero as head of the William Cooper Memorial Committee.

He said Mr Cooper was an inspiring figure who deserved to be immortalised.

Hundreds of people attended the statue’s unveiling, including Mr Cooper’s descendants.