Photo of Oodgeroo Noonuccal
at Brisbane's King George Square, March 1975
|Born||Kathleen Jean Mary Ruska
3 November 1920
Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island), Queensland, Australia
|Died||16 September 1993
Altona Meadows, Victoria, Australia
|Other names||Kath Walker and Kathleen Ruska|
|Ethnicity||Quandamooka (Aboriginal Australian)|
|Education||book keeping, typing, & shorthand|
|Occupation||domestic servant, corporal, writer, educator, poet|
|Employer||Australian Womens Army Service, Noonuccal-Nughie Education Cultural Centre|
|Known for||poetry, acting, writing, Aboriginal rights activism|
|Political party||Communist Party of Australia Australian Democrats|
|Board member of||Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI)|
|Children||Dennis Walker, Vivian Walker|
|Parents||Ted and Lucy Ruska|
|National Foundation for Australian Women's Biographical Entry|
Oodgeroo Noonuccal (// // UUD-gə-roo NOO-nə-kəl; born Kathleen Jean Mary Ruska, formerly Kath Walker) (31 November 1920 – 16 September 1993) was an Australian poet, political activist, artist and educator. She was also a campaigner for Aboriginal rights. Oodgeroo was best known for her poetry, and was the first Aboriginal Australian to publish a book of verse.
Life as a poet and activist
During the 1960s she emerged as a prominent political activist and writer. She was Queensland state secretary of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI), and was involved in a number of other political organisations. She was a key figure in the campaign for the reform of the Australian constitution to allow Aboriginal people full citizenship, lobbying Prime Minister Robert Menzies in 1965, and his successor Harold Holt in 1966. At one deputation in 1963, she taught Robert Menzies a lesson in the realities of Aboriginal life. After offering the deputation an alcoholic drink, she was startled to learn that in Queensland she could be jailed for doing the same thing.
She wrote many books, beginning with We Are Going (1964), the first book to be published by an Aboriginal woman. The title poem concludes:
The scrubs are gone, the hunting and the laughter.
The eagle is gone, the emu and the kangaroo are gone from this place.
The bora ring is gone.
The corroboree is gone.
And we are going.
This first book of poetry was extraordinarily successful, selling out in several editions, and setting Oodgeroo well on the way to be Australia’s highest-selling poet alongside C. J. Dennis. Critics’ responses, however, were mixed, with some questioning whether Oodgeroo, as an Aboriginal person, could really have written it herself. Others were disturbed by the activism of the poems, and found that they were "propaganda" rather than what they considered to be real poetry. Oodgeroo embraced the idea of her poetry as propaganda, and described her own style as "sloganistic, civil-writerish, plain and simple." She wanted to convey pride in her Aboriginality to the broadest possible audience, and to popularise equality and Aboriginal rights through her writing.
In 1972 she bought a property on North Stradbroke Island (also known as Minjerribah) which she called Moongalba ('sitting-down place'), and established the Noonuccal-Nughie Education and Cultural Centre. And in 1977, a documentary about her, called Shadow Sister, was released. It was directed and produced by Frank Heimans and photographed by Geoff Burton. It describes her return to Moongalba and her life there. In a 1987 interview, she described her education program at Moongalba, saying that over "the last seventeen years I've had 26,500 children on the island. White kids as well as black. And if there were green ones, I'd like them too ... I'm colour blind, you see. I teach them about Aboriginal culture. I teach them about the balance of nature." Oodgeroo was committed to education at all levels, and collaborated with universities in creating programs for teacher education that would lead to better teaching in Australian schools
In 1974 Noonuccal was aboard a British Airways flight that was hijacked by terrorists campaigning for Palestinian liberation. The hijackers shot a crew member and a passenger and forced the plane to fly to several different African destinations. During her three days in captivity, she used a blunt pencil and an airline sickbag from the seat pocket to write two poems, ‘Commonplace’ and ‘Yusuf (Hijacker)’.
In 1983 she ran in the Queensland State Election for the Australian Democrats political party in the seat of Redlands. Her campaign focused around policies promoting the environment and Aboriginal rights.
She died in 1993 in Victoria aged 72.
A play has since been written by Sam Watson entitled Oodgeroo: Bloodline to Country commemorating Oodgeroo Noonuccal's life, being a play swinging around Oodgeroo Noonuccal's real life experience as an Aboriginal woman on board a flight hijacked by Palestinian terrorists on her way home from a committee meeting in Nigeria for the World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture
Oodgeroo won several literary awards, including the Mary Gilmore Medal (1970), the Jessie Litchfield Award (1975), and the Fellowship of Australian Writers’ Award.
In 1979, she was awarded the Sixth Annual Oscar at the Micheaux Awards Ceremony, hosted by the US Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame and in the same year received the International Acting Award for the film Shadow Sisters.
- Municipal Gum (1960)
- We are Going: Poems (1964)
- The Dawn is at Hand: Poems (1966)
- My People: A Kath Walker collection (1970)
- No more boomerang (1985)
- Kath Walker in China (1988)
- The Colour Bar (1990)
- Oodgeroo (1994)
- Let Us Not Be Bitter (1990)
- White Australia (1970)
- All One Race (1970)
- Freedom (unknown)
- Stradbroke Dreamtime (1972)
- Father Sky and Mother Earth (1981)
- Little Fella (1986)
- The Rainbow Serpent (1988)
- Towards a Global Village in the Southern Hemisphere (1989)
- The Spirit of Australia (1989)
- Australian Legends And Landscapes (1990)
- Australia's Unwritten History: More legends of our land (1992)
- National Foundation for Australian Women's Biographical Entry Accessed 20 February 2009
- Land, Clare (26 August 2002). "Oodgeroo Noonuccal (1920–1993)". Australian Women's Archives Project. Retrieved 14 March 2007.
- "Oodgeroo Noonuccal." Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, Vol. 27. Gale, 2007
- Cochrane, (1994), p. 63.
- Cochrane, (1994), p. 67; Elaine Darling, They spoke out pretty good: politics and gender in the Brisbane Aboriginal Rights Movement 1958–1962 (St Kilda, Vic.: Janoan Media Exchange, c1998.), p. 189.
- "Oodgeroo Noonuccal - Reconciliation Australia". Reconciliation.org.au. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
- Mitchell, (1987), pp. 200–2
- Rooney, Brigid, Literary activists: writer-intellectuals and Australian public life, (St Lucia, Qld. : University of Queensland Press, 2009, pp. 68–9
- Kath Walker, "Aboriginal Literature" Identity 2.3 (1975) pp. 39–40
- Cochrane, (1994), p. 37
- Shadow Sister: A Film Biography of Aboriginal Poet Kath Walker (Oodgeroo Noonuccal), MBE
- Mitchell, (1987), p. 206.
- Rhonda Craven, "The role of teachers in the Year of Indigenous people: Oodgeroo of the Tribe Noonuccal (Kath Walker)", Aboriginal Studies Association Journal, No. 3 (1994), p. 55-56.
- Marg Powell, Jeff Rickertt. "Kath Walker | Sick Bag Poem | Treasures from the Fryer Library". Library.uq.edu.au. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
- Floyd, B., Inside Story, p. 71, Boolarong Press, Salisbury
- Notable Biographies: Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement: Supplement (Mi-So): Oodgeroo Noonuccal Biography
- National Foundation for Australian Women's Biographical Entry - Retrieved 4 July 2012.
- "Oodgeroo - Bloodline To Country". AustralianPlays.org. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
- Who's Who of Australian Women. Methuen Australia Pty Ltd. 1982. ISBN 0454004370.
- Cochrane, Kathie; Wright, Judith (1994). Oodgeroo. St Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press. ISBN 0-7022-2621-1.
- Mitchell, Susan (1987). The matriarchs : twelve Australian women talk about their lives to Susan Mitchell. Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin Australia. ISBN 0-14-008659-5.
- Beier, Ulli. Quandamooka, the art of Kath Walker (1985) ISBN 0-949267-12-0
- Shoemaker, Adam (Ed.) Oodgeroo: A tribute (1994) ISBN 0-7022-2800-1
- University of Queensland's Fryer Library OnLine Exhibition "Oodgeroo Noonuccal Kath Walker 1920–1993"
- University of Queensland Fryer Library OnLine Exhibition "1967 Referendum: Queensland organisations and activists"
- Interview from 1981. "Oodgeroo Noonuccal: Legacy of a True National Treasure of Australia." With profile.
- Guide to the Papers of Oodgeroo Noonuccal Catalogue of manuscripts at Fryer Library (University of Queensland)
- Videoclip from 'This is your life'
- National Foundation for Australian Women's Biographical Entry
- Article discussing Sam Watson's play about OodOodgeroo Noonuccal
- Oodgeroo: ‘A keeper of the law, a teller of stories’ Review of Sam Watson play about Oodgeroo Noonuccal
- Listen to a recording of Oodgeroo Noonuccal reading her poem 'We Are Going' on australianscreen online
- 'We Are Going' was added to the National Film and Sound Archive's Sounds of Australia registry in 2010