Oodgeroo Noonuccal

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Oodgeroo Noonuccal
(Kath Walker)
Oodgeroo Noonuccal 1975.jpg
Oodgeroo Noonuccal
at Brisbane's King George Square, March 1975
Kathleen Jean Mary Ruska

3 November 1920
Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island), Queensland, Australia
Died16 September 1993(1993-09-16) (aged 72)
ResidenceMoongalba tribe of Stradbroke island
NationalityAboriginal of the Noonuccal tribe in Australian
Other namesKath Walker and Kathleen Ruska
Educationbook keeping, typing, & shorthand
OccupationDomestic Servant, AWAS Full Corporal, Writer, Teacher, Poet
EmployerAustralian Women's Army Service, Noonuccal-Nughie Education Cultural Centre
Known forpoetry, acting, writing, Aboriginal rights activism
Political partyCommunist Party of Australia
Australian Labor Party
Australian Democrats
Board member ofFederal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI)
Spouse(s)Bruce Walker
ChildrenDenis Walker, Vivian Walker
Parent(s)Ted and Lucy Ruska
* Mary Gilmore Medal (1970)
* Jessie Litchfield Award (1975)
* International Acting Award
* Fellowship of Australian Writers' Award
* Member of the Order of the British Empire
* Honorary Doctorate (Queensland University of Technology)
* Honorary Doctorate (Macquarie University)
* Doctorate (Griffith University)[1]

Oodgeroo Noonuccal (/ˈʊdɡər ˈnnəkəl/ UUD-gə-roo NOO-nə-kəl; born Kathleen Jean Mary Ruska, formerly Kath Walker) (3 November 1920 – 16 September 1993) was an Australian Aboriginal political activist, artist and educator. She was also a campaigner for Aboriginal rights.[1] Oodgeroo was best known for her poetry, and was the first Aboriginal Australian to publish a book of verse.[2]

Life as a poet, artist, writer and activist[edit]

Oodgeroo Noonuccal joined the Australian Women’s Army Service in 1942, after her two brothers were captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore. Serving as a signaller in Brisbane she met many black American soldiers, as well as European Australians. These contacts helped to lay the foundations for her later advocacy of Aboriginal rights.[3] During the 1940s, she joined the Communist Party of Australia.[4]

During the 1960s Kath Walker emerged as a prominent political activist and writer. She was Queensland state secretary of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI),[5] 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.[6] At one deputation in 1963, she taught Robert Menzies a lesson in the realities of Aboriginal life. After the Prime Minister offered the deputation an alcoholic drink, he was startled to learn from her that in Queensland he could be jailed for this.[7]

She wrote many books, beginning with We Are Going (1964), the first book to be published by an Aboriginal woman.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10] Oodgeroo embraced the idea of her poetry as propaganda, and described her own style as "sloganistic, civil-writerish, plain and simple."[11] She wanted to convey pride in her Aboriginality to the broadest possible audience, and to popularise equality and Aboriginal rights through her writing.[12]

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.[1] 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.[13] 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."[14] 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.[15]

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)'.[16]

In 1983 Noonuccal ran in the Queensland state election for the Australian Democrats political party in the Electoral district of Redlands. Her campaign focused around policies promoting the environment and Aboriginal rights.[17]

In 1988 she adopted a traditional name: Oodgeroo (meaning "paperbark tree") Noonuccal (her tribe's name).[18]

She died in 1993 in Victoria aged 72.[1]

In 2016 the Queensland Poetry Festival introduced an indigenous program which included the inaugural Oodgeroo Noonuccal Indigenous Poetry Prize.[19]

In culture[edit]

A play has been written by Sam Watson entitled Oodgeroo: Bloodline to Country commemorating Oodgeroo Noonuccal's life, being a play based on 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[20]

Noonuccal's poetry has been set to music by numerous composers, including Christopher Gordon, Clare Maclean, Stephen Leek, Andrew Ford, Paul Stanhope, Mary Mageau, and Joseph Twist.[21]


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.[22]

She was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1970, returning it in 1987 to protest the Australian Bicentenary celebrations, and to make a political statement at the condition of her people.[18][1]

In 2009 as part of the Q150 celebrations, Oodgeroo Noonuccal was announced as one of the Q150 Icons of Queensland for her role as an "Influential Artists".[23]

The electoral district of Oodgeroo created in the 2017 Queensland state electoral redistribution was named after her.[24]

Her work[edit]


  • The Past (1970)
  • Municipal Gum (1960)
  • "A Song of Hope" (1960)
  • We are Going: Poems (1964)
  • The Dawn is at Hand: Poems (1966)
  • My People: A Kath Walker collection (1970)
  • Then and now (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 (1970)
  • The Unhappy Race (1989)
  • Then and Now (1970)
  • Last of His Tribe (1970)
  • Ballad of the Totems

For children

  • Stradbroke Dreamtime (1972)
  • Father Sky and Mother Earth (1981)
  • Little Fella (1986)
  • The Rainbow Serpent (1988)

Non fiction

  • 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)


  1. ^ a b c d e Land, Clare (16 September 2013). "Oodgeroo Noonuccal (1920–1993)". Australian Women's Archives Project. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  2. ^ "Oodgeroo Noonuccal." Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, Vol. 27. Gale, 2007
  3. ^ "Indigenous defence service - The Australian War Memorial". www.awm.gov.au. Archived from the original on 3 March 2018. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  4. ^ Abbey, Sue. "Noonuccal, Oodgeroo (1920–1993)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved 13 May 2019.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Cochrane, (1994), p. 63.
  7. ^ "Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath (Ruska) Walker)". Reconciliation Australia. Archived from the original on 5 April 2012. Retrieved 20 May 2016.
  8. ^ "Maori and Aboriginal Women in the Public Eye: Representing Difference, 1950-2000". ANU E Press. Archived from the original on 23 February 2015. Retrieved 23 February 2014.
  9. ^ Mitchell, (1987), pp. 200–2.
  10. ^ Rooney, Brigid, Literary activists: writer-intellectuals and Australian public life (St Lucia, Qld.) : University of Queensland Press, 2009, pp. 68–9
  11. ^ Kath Walker, "Aboriginal Literature" Identity 2.3 (1975) pp. 39–40
  12. ^ Cochrane, (1994), p. 37
  13. ^ "Shadow Sister: A Film Biography of Aboriginal Poet Kath Walker (Oodgeroo Noonuccal), MBE". Archived from the original on 19 July 2008. Retrieved 14 March 2017.
  14. ^ Mitchell, (1987), p. 206.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Powell, Marg; Rickertt, Jeff. "Kath Walker - Sick Bag Poem - Treasures from the Fryer Library". Library.uq.edu.au. Archived from the original on 31 March 2012. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  17. ^ Floyd, B., Inside Story, p. 71, Boolarong Press, Salisbury.
  18. ^ a b "Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement: Supplement (Mi-So): Oodgeroo Noonuccal Biography". Notable Biographies. Archived from the original on 27 February 2016. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  19. ^ "Queensland Poetry Festival". ATSICHS. Archived from the original on 15 February 2017. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  20. ^ "Oodgeroo - Bloodline To Country". AustralianPlays.org. Archived from the original on 30 March 2012. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  21. ^ "Oodgeroo Noonuccal : Australian Music Centre". Archived from the original on 14 March 2017. Retrieved 14 March 2017.
  22. ^ Who's Who of Australian Women. Methuen Australia Pty Ltd. 1982. ISBN 0454004370.
  23. ^ Bligh, Anna (10 June 2009). "PREMIER UNVEILS QUEENSLAND'S 150 ICONS". Queensland Government. Archived from the original on 24 May 2017. Retrieved 24 May 2017.
  24. ^ Queensland Redistribution Commission (26 May 2017). "Determination of Queensland's Legislative Assembly Electoral Districts" (PDF). Queensland Government Gazette. p. 177. Archived (PDF) from the original on 29 October 2017. Retrieved 29 October 2017.


  • 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.
  • Di Blasio, Francesca; Zanoletti, Margherita (2013). Oodgeroo Noonuccal: con "We are Going" [Oodgeroo Noonuccal: with "We are Going"]. Trento, Italy: Università degli Studi di Trento. ISBN 978-8884-435-071.

Secondary sources

External links[edit]