Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Harold More Cooper (1886–1970)

by Hans Mincham

This article was published:

Harold More Cooper (1886-1970), wireless operator, archaelogist and historian, was born on 29 December 1886 in North Adelaide, eldest son of Robert Cooper, accountant, and his wife Mary Antill, née Osborne. Educated locally at Queen's School and through travel in Europe, from the age of 18 Harold was employed by the Eastern Extension Australasian & China Telegraph Co. Ltd, Adelaide; he resigned in 1926 after spending years of exhausting shiftwork transmitting and receiving morse code. From his Glenelg home he operated an amateur, experimental wireless station. He made worldwide contacts, participated in research (including the effects of climatic conditions and sunspot disturbances on long-distance, short-wave communication) and provided a radio link between the magnetic observatory at Watheroo, Western Australia, and Washington, D.C., United States of America.

Becoming interested in Aboriginal stone culture in 1934, Cooper discovered at Hallett Cove, eight miles (13 km) south of Adelaide, 'a vast camp-site of ancient people' whose large, crude, stone implements he found on ground exposed by recent ploughing. These implements resembled some previously collected on Kangaroo Island which had been uninhabited when visited by Matthew Flinders. Despite his slight, almost frail appearance, this gentle, generous man had the stamina and spirit to work hard and long in the field. Over the succeeding thirty-six years he made more than two hundred visits to the site, meticulously documenting his finds and observations. He also explored Kangaroo Island, locating ancient camp-sites and collecting hundreds of implements, products of an early culture which N. B. Tindale named 'Kartan'. Several of the twenty papers that Cooper published in the Records of the South Australian Museum, the Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia and other journals were devoted to Kartan implements which he continued to find on the mainland.

Appointed assistant-ethnologist at the South Australian Museum in 1941, Cooper was praised by Tindale, the curator of anthropology, for his painstaking work which ensured that the tools were recognized as 'the handiwork of the first Australians'. In addition to archaelogical items, Cooper brought back numerous specimens, among them new species of land snails and insects (two of the former and three of the latter were named after him). His recreations were sailing and deep-sea fishing, and he secured many rare fishes, including two new species.

In World War II, during Tindale's absence, Cooper packed half of what was the world's largest collection of Aboriginal artefacts and stored them in a disused railway tunnel in the Adelaide Hills. He later supervised their return to the museum. In April 1944 he joined the Naval Auxiliary Patrol as a staff skipper and patrolled Gulf St Vincent. With three others in Adelaide, working six-hour shifts, he maintained a constant radio monitoring service to detect any indication of enemy action. He published Australian Aboriginal Words and their Meanings (1949), Naval History of South Australia (1950), French Exploration in South Australia (1952), The Unknown Coast (1953) and The Unknown Coast—a Supplement (1955). The last two discussed Flinders' 1802 exploration of Australia's southern coast.

Cooper retired from his position at the museum in 1957, but continued as honorary associate in anthropology until his eighty-third year. In his seventies his field-work had still ranged from Hallett Cove to the Flinders Ranges. He died, unmarried, on 14 May 1970 at Waterworth Hospital, Glenelg, and was buried in St Jude's Anglican churchyard, Brighton.

Select Bibliography

  • South Australian Museum, Hallett Cover—a Field Guide (Adel, 1970)
  • P. G. Jones, A Bibliography of Aboriginal Archaeology in South Australia (Adel, 1985)
  • H. Mincham, 'Harold More Cooper', Friends of the South Australian Museum Newsletter, 2, June 1966, p 4
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 28 Sept 1963, 18 May 1970.

Citation details

Hans Mincham, 'Cooper, Harold More (1886–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


29 December, 1886
North Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


14 May, 1970 (aged 83)
Glenelg, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.