The Sydney Morning Herald March 25, 1999 OBITUARIES Syd Cunningham, OAM Aboriginal community stalwart 1926 - 1999 “The kids’ eyes shone like diamonds when they saw the helicopter,” said Syd “Doc" Cunningham, describing how Aboriginal children at Nanima reserve in the NSW country town of Wellington reacted when he descended from the sky with toys nine years ago. As “Black Santa”, for more than 30 years, Cunningham persuaded Sydney citizens to donate toys so that Aboriginal children in the State’s west might have a gift-filled Christmas that their families otherwise might never have been able to afford. Sydney Arthur Cunningham began his annual bush odysseys in the early 1960s – he teamed red overalls with a red pyjama top and a pair of gumboots – to hand out “a few gifts” to children out west. "I’d put on the Santa uniform, get all the kids and give them Christmas. The crowds grew and grew,” he later recalled. By last Christmas, he was providing toys to some 6,000 children in Wellington, Dubbo, Peak Hill, Gilgandra and Bourke, although poor health made it impossible for him to appear personally. Peter Piggott, who flew the helicopter taking the toys out westin the late 1980s and early 1990s with Cunningham, remembered how “humbling" it was to see the children’s faces. “He’s an amazing, indefatigable man. Totally honest. He didn’t want anything for himself; he just loves kids," Pigott once said of him. A fearless fund-raiser, Cunningham also helped pensioners with gifts of food, clothing, party fare, fridges and TVs. Descended through his mother from the Yuen people of the NSW South Coast, Cunningham grew up in Redfern and La Perouse. His first job was selling newspapers; he graduated to driving wool carts pulled by horses through Sydney. However, his chord of kindness lured him into welfare work and he daily battled to help his people during many years as co-ordinator with the Western Districts Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs in St Marys. A registered charity, it gave food, advice, furniture and clothing to needy Aborigines and helped pay for funerals. He sent blankets to Nyngan Aborigines when their town was flooded. He and his wife often had extra children living with them, who could stay as long as they needed to get on their feet He also raised money for research into cancer in children. Cunningham served in the Army and the RAAF and in Papua New Guinea during World War II. After a 51-year battle, he finally proved that his poor health stemmed from his war service and was awarded a disability pension. After he retired, Cunningham took to sitting with a table, chair and bucket on the pavement in King Street, Newtown, with a sign which said, “Wellington Aboriginal Children, we need your help for a bush Xmas.” The RSL made him Anzac of the Year in 1982 and he was also named Aboriginal of the Year in 1987. In 1989 he was awarded an Order of Australia Medal. In 1992, retiring from the foundation after working there for more than 20 years, he registered the name “Black Santa” and, in spite of several strokes, kept up his tireless collection of toys. A long-time resident of Alexandria, he had a collection of marionettes which he loved to make dance. His last years were focused on his five grandchildren, aged four to 11 years. Cunningham died in his sleep at Balmain Hospital after a long illness. He is survived by his wife, Judith, daughters Dianne and Leonie, and son, Kerry. He also had a long-lost daughter, Helen, who he was never able to find. Debra Jopson ------------------------------------------------------- RecOzNet2 has a page @ http://www.green.net.au/recoznet2 To unsubscribe from this list, mail [EMAIL PROTECTED], and in the body of the message, include the words: unsubscribe announce or click here mailto:[EMAIL PROTECTED]?Body=unsubscribe%20announce This posting is provided to the individual members of this group without permission from the copyright owner for purposes of criticism, comment, scholarship and research under the "fair use" provisions of the Federal copyright laws and it may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner, except for "fair use."