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NOONUCCAL, Oodgeroo

Also known as: Kath Walker, born Kathleen Jean Mary Ruska

Born: 3/11/1920

Died: 16/9/1993

Aboriginal or Torrest Stait Islander: Yes

Special Achievements:

Self-educated from the age of 13, through her employers' libraries when a domestic servant, this Noonuccal woman from Queensland's Stradbroke Island wrote the anthology of poetry, We Are Going in 1964, becoming the first Aboriginal poet to go into print.  Oodgeroo Noonuccal was also a leading advocate for land rights and reconciliation.  Oodgeroo was Queensland State Secretary of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders for ten years in the 1960s and from 1972 was managing director of the Noonuccal-Nughie Education Cultural Centre on Stradboke Island. Throughout her life, she was a renowned and admired campaigner for Aboriginal rights, promoter of Aboriginal cultural survival, educator and environmentalist. She stood as the Australian Labor Party member for the electorate of Greenslopes in the 1969 State election. Although voting rights had only been in place four years, Oodgeroo decided it was time to '[s]how our black faces in parliament.'

Additional Information:

Oodgeroo's work has been recognised by numerous awards, including the Mary Gilmore Medal (1970), the Jessie Litchfield Award (1975), the International Acting Award and the Fellowship of Australian Writers' Award. She also held an honourary doctorate of letters (Macquarie University) and was awarded the degree of Doctor of the University from Griffith University. In 1970, Oodgeroo (under the name Kathleen Walker) was appointed as a Member of the Order of the British Empire (Civil) for services to the community. She returned it in 1987 in protest against the forthcoming Australian Bicentenary celebrations (1988). It was around this time that she reclaimed her traditional name, Oodgeroo of the Noonuccal Tribe.  In her own words:

'Since 1970 I have lived in the hope that the parliaments of England and Australia would confer and attempt to rectify the terrible damage done to the Australian Aborigines. The forbidding us our tribal language, the murders, the poisoning, the scalping, the denial of land custodianship, especially our spiritual sacred sites, the destruction of our sacred places especially our Bora Grounds … Next year, 1988, to me marks 200 years of rape and carnage, all these terrible things that the Aboriginal tribes of Australia have suffered without any recognition even of admitted guilt from the parliaments of England … From the Aboriginal point of view, what is there to celebrate?… I have therefore decided that as a protest against what the Bicentenary 'Celebrations' stand for, I can no longer, with a clear conscience, accept the English honour of the MBE and will be returning it to her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of England, through her representative, the Queensland State Governor, Sir Walter Campbell.' ('Why I am now Oodgeroo Noonuccal', Age, 1987)


Resources

  • References

    Oodgeroo Noonuccal has written about her life and work in several publications, including a short account in Roberta Sykes's 1993 Murawina: Australian women of high achievement. In addition, extremely numerous publications by and about Oodgeroo Noonuccal are available in most libraries. Janine Little has compiled a bibliography of Oodgeroo's verse, prose and other works, reviews and critical works on her work, obituaries, and audiovisual and performance material featuring Oodgeroo. See 'Oodgeroo: A Selective Checklist' in Oodgeroo: a tribute (Shoemaker (ed), 1994).