Yes, Virginia, there is a Black Santa Claus!
Did you know that NSW had its very own Black Santa for over 30 years?
Aboriginal children who lived in the western part of NSW in places like Wellington, Dubbo, Gilgandra, Bourke, Peak Hill, have waited eagerly every year for Black Santa to bring them Xmas gifts that their families may not have been able to afford.
Who was Black Santa and how did the tradition start?
Sydney Cunningham, of the Yuen people of the South Coast of NSW (he grew up in La Perouse and Redfern), became the Black Santa when he dressed up in rudimentary Santa clothes (a red pyjama top and black gumboots) and delivered a handful of toys to children in the 1960s.
By the 80s the whole thing had grown dramatically with thousands of toys transported by helicopter with the Black Santa in a more traditional Santa outfit.
Syd was the co-ordinator of the Western District Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs in St Marys. After he retired in the 90s he continued his annual trips out west as Black Santa and raised money by setting up a bucket for donations in King Street in Newtown to fund the toys he bought. ( A plaque was installed to commemorate him in this spot.)
Syd was awarded an Order of Australia Medal and was named Aboriginal of the Year in 1987.
A number of other Black Santas also exist in different parts of Australia. Ronnie Garrawurra visited Ramingining, a remote community 560 kilometres east of Darwin in Arnhem Land in 2015. Over the years more and more black Santas have been appearing in different communities as these communities have adopted the tradition so that Aboriginal children have a recognisable Santa Claus.
The original Black Santa in NSW, Syd Cunningham will not be forgotten, however.
Described in his obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald as having a “chord of kindness” and being a “fearless fundraiser” who “just loves kids”, Syd died in 1999 at the age of 72 – by then he was giving out toys to over 6000 Aboriginal children a year.
Image courtesy of Getty Images
- Jessica Staines