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    Photograph of Oodgeroo in Brisbane's King George Square, March 1975, courtesy of University of Queensland.
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Oodgeroo Noonuccal (1920 - 1993)

Born
3 November 1920
North Stradbroke Island, Queensland, Australia
Died
16 September 1993
Occupation
Poet, Political activist, Artist and Educator
Alternative Names
  • Walker, Kathleen Jean Mary

Summary

Oodgeroo Noonuccal was born Kathleen Jean Mary Ruska, on Minjerribah (the Stradbroke Islands). Oodgeroo Noonuccal means Oodgeroo of the tribe Nunuccal; spelling variations include Nunuccal, Noonuckle and Nunukul. In 1970, Oodgeroo Noonuccal (under the name Kathleen Walker) was appointed 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).

Details

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).

Oodgeroo Noonuccal was born Kathleen Jean Mary Ruska on 3 November 1920, on North Stradbroke Island, country of the Noonuccal tribe. She attended Dulwich Primary; left school and became a domestic in Brisbane at the age of 13. As an Aboriginal person, she said, 'there wasn't the slightest possibility of getting "a better job" [even] if you stayed on at school' (Murawina, 1993).

Oodgeroo served in the Australian Women's Army Service (1942-1944). She published her first book of poetry, We Are Going, in 1964, going on to become a trailblazer in published Aboriginal writing in Australia. Oodgeroo was Queensland State Secretary of FCAATSI 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.'

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.

Oodgeroo originally accepted the nomination as MBE after discussing the honour with members of the Brisbane Aboriginal community who felt that acceptance of the honour could 'open doors that were still closed to the Aborigines' ('Why I am now Oodgeroo Noonuccal', Age, 1987). However, Oodgeroo came to reconsider her acceptance. 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.'

Sources used to compile this entry: Draper, W J (ed.), Who's Who in Australia 1980, 23 edn, The Herald and Weekly Times, Melbourne, 1908, 928 pp; Fryer Library with research by Yorick Smaal, Worth Fighting For!, University of Queensland, 2008, http://www.library.uq.edu.au/fryer/worth_fighting/; Horton, David (ed.), The Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia : Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, society and culture, Aboriginal Studies Press for AIATSIS, Canberra, 1994, 2 v. (xxxiii, 1340 p.) pp; Lofthouse, Andrea (ed.), Who's Who of Australian Women, Methuen Australia, North Ryde (NSW), 1982, 504 pp; Roberta Sykes ; photography by Sandy Edwards, Murawina : Australian women of high achievement, Doubleday, Sydney, 1993, 185 pp; 'Kath Walker makes a stand in the sitting-down place', Good Weekend 28 February 1987; Sykes 1993.

Related entries

Archival resources

Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS)

  • The Aussie image : the language of the image makers, 1980, KIT N531.48/A1; Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS). Details

Fryer Library and Department of Special Collections, University of Queensland

  • Kath Walker interviewed [sound recording], 1970s - , PR8279.A43 Z463 197*; Fryer Library and Department of Special Collections, University of Queensland. Details
  • Papers of Noonuccal, Oodgeroo, 1920-1993, 1940s - c. 1985, UQFL84; Fryer Library and Department of Special Collections, University of Queensland. Details
  • Papers related to the publishing of The Spirit of Australia [Oodgeroo Nunuccal and Paul Cliff], 1988? - 1989, F3217; Fryer Library and Department of Special Collections, University of Queensland. Details
  • Papers relating to Oodgeroo Noonuccal, 1991 - 1994, UQFL286; Fryer Library and Department of Special Collections, University of Queensland. Details
  • Poems [Noonuccal, Oodgeroo, 1920-1993.], F3135; Fryer Library and Department of Special Collections, University of Queensland. Details

Mitchell and Dixson Libraries Manuscripts Collection, State Library of New South Wales

  • Aboriginal National Theatre Trust Limited - files, 1902-1991, 1902 - 1991, MLMSS 6254/4-24; Mitchell and Dixson Libraries Manuscripts Collection, State Library of New South Wales. Details

National Library of Australia Manuscript Collection

  • Papers of Frank Hardy, MS 4887; National Library of Australia Manuscript Collection. Details

National Library of Australia Newspaper Microcopy Reading Room

  • Biographical cuttings on Oodgeroo Noonuccal, poet, conservationist and Aboriginal community worker.; National Library of Australia Newspaper Microcopy Reading Room. Details

National Library of Australia Oral History Collection

  • Conversation with Kath Walker, 1976; National Library of Australia Oral History Collection. Details

Special Collections, Academy Library, UNSW@ADFA, Australian Defence Force Academy

  • Craig Powell manuscript collection, 1960 - 1970, MS 152; Special Collections, Academy Library, UNSW@ADFA, Australian Defence Force Academy. Details

The University of Melbourne, Baillieu Library Special Collections

  • Aboriginal charter of rights, 1966, SpC/MCL f ABOR; The University of Melbourne, Baillieu Library Special Collections. Details

Digital resources

Title
Photograph of Oodgeroo in Brisbane's King George Square, March 1975
Type
Image
Date
1975
Publisher
University of Queensland

Details

Clare Land

Site-wide information and acknowledgements

National Foundation for Australian Women The University of Melbourne, eScholarship Research Centre

http://www.womenaustralia.info/biogs/IMP0082b.htm

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