• Entry type: Person
  • Entry ID: IMP0082

Oodgeroo Noonuccal

(1920 – 1993)
  • Born 3 November, 1920, North Stradbroke Island Queensland Australia
  • Died 16 September, 1993
  • Occupation Artist, Educator, Poet, Political activist


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).


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 honorary 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.’



  • 2001 - 2001

    Inducted into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women

Published resources

  • Edited Book
    • The Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia : Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, society and culture, Horton, David, 1994
    • Who's Who of Australian Women, Lofthouse, Andrea, 1982
    • Who's Who in Australia 1980, Draper, W. J., 1980
  • Resource Section
  • Book
    • Murawina : Australian women of high achievement, Roberta Sykes ; photography by Sandy Edwards, 1993
    • The black Diggers : Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in the Second World War, Hall, Robert A., 1997
    • The matriarchs: twelve Australian women talk about their lives to Susan Mitchell., Mitchell, Susan, 1987
    • Aboriginal betrayal poster : land rights (makarrata) [Poster], Kath Walker [Oodgeroo Nunuccal], 1981
    • Oodgeroo of the Noonuccal, custodian of the land Minjerribah [sound recording; broadcast on 3/1/1994], Stuart, Ellen and Remedio, Theresa, 1994
    • Shadow sister [motion picture], Frank Heimans; Geoff Burton; Jenny Baird Nussinov, 1977
    • Kath Walker: This is your life. Series 6 ; ep. 1 [videorecording], 1980
    • Dream Time Machine Time [videorecording], Joanna Penglase; Don Featherstone, 1987
    • Fringe Dwellers, Bereford, Bruce; Oodgeroo Nunuccal [actor and script consultant], 1986
    • Australian literature : an historical introduction, McLaren, John, 1989
    • Australian women writers : a bibliographic guide, Adelaide, Debra, 1988
    • Australia's unwritten history : more legends of our land, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, c1992
    • The dawn is at hand : poems, Kath Walker [Oodgeroo Noonuccal], 1966
    • Father Sky and Mother Earth, Kath Walker [Oodgeroo Noonuccal], 1981
    • Legends of our land, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, c1990
    • My people, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, 1990
    • Quandamooka, the art of Kath Walker, Ulli Beier, 1985
    • The Rainbow serpent, Oodgeroo Noonuccal and Kabul Oodgeroo Noonuccal, c1988
    • The spirit of Australia, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, 1989
    • Towards a global village in the southern hemisphere, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, 1989
    • Stradbroke dreamtime, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, 1993
    • We are going, Kath Walker [Oodgeroo Noonuccal], 1964
    • Talkin' up to the white woman : Aboriginal women and feminism, Moreton-Robinson, Aileen, 2000
    • You'll be sorry!, Howard, Ann, 1990
    • Some Aboriginal women pathfinders : their difficulties and their achievements, Beeson, Margaret J (compiled by), [1980]
    • The Complete Book of Great Australian Women: Thirty-six women who changed the course of Australia, De Vries, Susanna, 2003
  • Newspaper Article
    • Kath Walker makes a stand in the sitting-down place [Oodgeroo Nunucccal], Roberts, G., 1987
    • The struggle goes on. -In death as in life, controversy continues to surround Oodgeroo Noonuccal-, Roberts, Greg, 1993
    • Kath Walker, activist, artist finds a new medium for her cause. - playing the old woman in the film <I>The Fringe Dwellers</I>, Neller, Shelley, 1985
    • It's 'bloody minded revenge', says Kath Walker. - Queensland State Lands Administration refuses to alter tenure of land on Moongalba Reserve-, Roberts, Greg, 1984
    • Utopia Australia [Series of six parts] Part 6: A republic in which we all share. -Interview with Kath Walker-, Broadbent, David, 1983
    • Neville Bonner takes on the role of elder, Stokes, Charles, 1982
    • Born to be a poet: 1982 James McAuley Memorial Lecture: Kath Walker. - Interview-, Errey, Howard, 1982
    • Stradbroke dreamtime and beyond: conversations with Kath Walker at Moongalba, Shiels, Rosa; Leimbach, Claire, 1981
    • Kath Walker and the bridge to the Dreamtime, Barnes, Mick, 1980
    • Why I am now Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Oodgeroo Nunuccal, 1987
    • Poet swaps name in protest, Roberts, Greg, 1987
    • Honours for Aborigines, 1971
    • Details of pioneers in Aboriginal movement., Horner, Jack, 1972
    • Aboriginal Writers in Australia, Beston, John B., 1976
  • Journal Article
    • They spoke out pretty good: the leadership of women in the Brisbane Aboriginal rights movement, 1958/ 1962, Darling, Elaine, 1996
    • The role of teachers in the Year of Indigenous People: Oodgeroo of the tribe Noonuccal (Kath Walker) interviewed by Rhonda Craven, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, 1994
    • Obituary: Oodgeroo of the tribe Noonuccal, Collins, John, 1994
    • Oodgeroo as friend and artist, Beier, Ulli, 1994
    • Oodgeroo in China, Nicholas Jose, 1994
    • From Kath Walker to Oodgeroo Noonuccal?: ambiguity and assurance in My People, Eva Rask Knudsen, 1994
    • Oodgeroo Noonuccal/Kath Walker 1920/ 1993. [Obituary], Cochrane, Kathleen J., 1993
    • The poetry of Oodgeroo. -With poem "Mudrooroo Remembers Oodgeroo"-, Page, Geoff; Mudrooroo, 1993
    • Kath Walker: an extraordinary life. -An interview by Christine Hogan-, Hogan, Christine, 1987
    • I used my art for sanity's sake. -Comments on the author's drawings-, Walker, Kath [Oodgeroo Nunuccal], 1986
    • Kath turns to painting. -Poet Kath Walker-, 1985
    • Looking at Australia from both sides of the fence. - Article based on an address given to an "Action for Aboriginal Rights" meeting in Melbourne-, Walker, Kath [Oodgeroo Nunuccal], 1985
    • Harmony in education. -Excerpts from an address to Action for Aboriginal Rights-, Walker, Kath [Oodgeroo Nunuccal], 1985
    • Where are my first born?: Aboriginal education. - Transcript of the Charles Joseph La Trobe Memorial Lecture for 1983-, Walker, Kath [Oodgeroo Nunuccal], 1984
    • A showpiece for what?: the Commonwealth Games, Tweedie, Penny, 1982
    • A look at the seventies, Walker, Kath [Oodgeroo Nunuccal], 1979
    • Kath Walker at Moongalba: making the new dreamtime, Lauer, Margaret Read, 1978
    • Interview: Kath Walker, Davidson, Jim, 1977
    • The Aboriginal poets in English: Kath Walker, Jack Davis, and Kevin Gilbert, Beston, John, 1977
    • Oodgeroo: A Selective Checklist, Janine Little, 1994
    • Citizenship as Non-discrimination: Acceptance or Assimilation? Political Logic and Emotional Investment in Campaigns for Indigenous Rights in Australia, 1940 TO 1970, Lake, Marilyn, 2001
  • Book Section
    • Oodgeroo Noonuccal: writer, poet and educator, Oodgeroo Nunuccal, 1990
    • Kath Walker. -An Aboriginal writer: interview by Candida Baker-, Candida Baker, 1987
    • 'Recording the cries of the people': an interview with Oodgeroo (Kath Walker). -Edited version of an interview conducted 28 Jan 1988-, Oodgeroo Noonuccal; Gerry Turcotte, 1988
    • Aboriginal women and economic ingenuity [Changing white perceptions of Aboriginal culture and the role of women in that culture], Langton, Marcia; Barry, Kristen, 1998
    • Aboriginal women, Richards, Michaela, 1988
    • Recollections, Walker, Kath [Oodgeroo Noonuccal], 1987
    • Outsiders: Aboriginal women, Barwick, Diane, 1969
  • Journal
    • Oodgeroo, a tribute, Adam Shoemaker, 1994
  • Resource
  • Conference Proceedings
    • Reports and resolutions, Conference on Aboriginal Affairs (8th : 1965 : Canberra, A.C.T.), 1965
  • Site Exhibition

Archival resources

  • Fryer Library, The University of Queensland
    • Papers related to the publishing of The Spirit of Australia, [1988?]-1989
    • Papers relating to Oodgeroo Noonuccal
    • Poems, [manuscript]
    • Oodgeroo Noonuccal Papers
    • Kath Walker interviewed
  • Special Collections, Academy Library, UNSW@ADFA
    • Craig Powell manuscript collection
  • National Library of Australia, Manuscript Collection
    • Papers of Frank Hardy, 1931-1988 [manuscript]
  • National Library of Australia, Oral History and Folklore Collection
    • Kath Walker interviewed by Hazel de Berg in the Hazel de Berg collection [sound recording]
  • The University of Melbourne, Special Collections
    • Aboriginal charter of rights / by Kath Walker
  • National Library of Australia
    • [Biographical cuttings on Oodgeroo Noonuccal, poet, conservationist and Aboriginal community worker, containing one or more cuttings from newspapers or journals]
  • Mitchell and Dixson Libraries Manuscripts Collection
    • Aboriginal National Theatre Trust Limited - files, 1902-1991
  • AIATSIS Books and Printed Material Collection
    • The Aussie image : the language of the image makers

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