From frontpiece of Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigines (1924)
David Unaipon i(58 works by)
Also writes as: Ngunaitponi
Born: Established: 28 Sep 1872 Raukkan / Narrung, Meningie - Coorong area, South East South Australia, South Australia, ; Died: Ceased: 7 Feb 1967 Tailem Bend, Murray Bridge - Tailem Bend area, Lower Murray area, Murray - Mallee area, South Australia,
Gender: Male
Heritage: Aboriginal ; Aboriginal Ngarrindjeri people
AustLit is a subscription service. The content and services available here are limited because you have not been recognised as a subscriber. Find out how to gain full access to AustLit


David Unaipon was born at the Point McLeay Mission, South Australia, and attended the mission school until 1885 when he left to become a servant. Encouraged by others to pursue his interest in philosophy, science and music, Unaipon read widely and became well-known for his intellectual capacity and inventions. He spoke regularly at schools and learned societies, and often attended government enquiries.

In the 1920s, he began to study western mythology and began collecting his own people's myths and legends. He wrote for the Sydney Daily Telegraph newspaper from 1924, and began publishing compilations of his myths. He is considered to be the first Indigenous Australian author, publishing Aboriginal legends in the 1920s. Without permission, the publisher Angus and Robertson sold the copyright of the stories to William Ramsay Smith who published Myths and Legends of the Australian Aboriginals (1930) without acknowledgement. W. R. Smith also published some of Unaipon's stories as Australian Legends (1984), with notes in Japanese.

Remaining a prominent voice in Aboriginal affairs, Unaipon continued to advise the state and Commonwealth, appearing before several royal commissions into the treatment of Aborigines.

David Unaipon received a Coronation medal in 1953. He continued to travel and speak widely and, late in life, returned to his inventions, seeking the key to perpetual motion. He died in 1967. In the 1990s, Unaipon's manuscript of Aboriginal legends was edited and published as Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigines (2001), adopting his original title and finally acknowledging his authorship.

An annual award, The David Unaipon Literary Award, for an unpublished manuscript by and Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander writer honours him. He is also depicted on the Australian $50 note.

David Unaipon was chosen as one of 150 great South Australians by a panel of The Advertiser senior writers to celebrate the 150th Anniversay of The Advertiser newspaper, 12 April 2008.


  • See also the full Australian Dictionary of Biography Online entry for David Unaipon.

Awards for Works

David Unaipon's Style of Subversion: Performativity and Becoming in 'Gool Lun Naga (Green Frog)' JASAL , Special Issue 2008 single work criticism 'This paper theorises Aboriginal author David Unaipon's style of subversion. Firstly, Unaipon's manner of dress is investigated as an embodied, performative Aboriginal resistance strategy that fits within a worldwide history of dandyism. Secondly, a close reading of one of Unaipon's short stories ('Gool Lun Naga (Green Frog)') reveals how his performative method of resistance is apparent not only in his dress, but in his writings as well. Such an analysis seeks to intervene in a history of criticism on Unaipon's life and writing that fails to account for the many contradictions within his life and writing. Ultimately, the failure to account for the many contradictions in Unaipon's life is seen as contributing to the colonial present (Gregory), where colonial discourses still operate to define and limit Aboriginality. Unaipon's constant struggle against such discourses is read as a "becoming-imperceptible" (Deleuze and Guattari); a style of subversion that has paved the way for many Aboriginal artists since.' (Author's abstract)
2007 joint winner ASAL Awards A. D. Hope Prize
Last amended 20 Jun 2016 11:04:21
Other mentions of "" in AustLit: