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Aunty Oodgeroo Noonuccal

Oodgeroo Noonuccal was a leading advocate for land rights and reconciliation, and in 1964 published the first poetry book by an Aboriginal woman.

Honour Roll

Oodgeroo Noonuccal was born on 3 November 1920 on North Stradbroke Island, Queensland, one of the Noonuccal tribe. She wanted to become a nurse, however further study was not an option for an Aboriginal student at the time, so she went into domestic service for a white family in Brisbane. The work was hard so when the war broke out she joined the Army and worked as a switchboard operator. She married a wharfie, had two sons and studied to be a stenographer. The marriage was not happy and it did not last.

She joined the Communist Party as she found they were the only party sympathetic to the problems of Aboriginal people. She was active in the movement to advance Aboriginal rights and became secretary for the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders from 1960. She wrote a poem entitled 'Aboriginal Charter of Rights' which became the 'battle hymn' of the reform movement.

In 1964, Aunty Oodgeroo's first book of poetry We Are Going was published and it was widely read and discussed. Her poignant collection became a best-seller, and she became the second best-selling Australian poet behind C.J. Dennis. It was published in the United States where she won further acclaim. Fellow poets Mary Gilmore and Judith Wright were very supportive of Aunty Oodgeroo's work. Another book followed, The Dawn is at Hand, which was published in 1966 to further acclaim.

Oodgeroo was also advocating land rights. She co-founded the Aboriginal publications Identity and Aboriginal Quarterly and contributed to other magazines. Following the success of the 1967 referendum, sye stood for parliament in Queensland, becoming the first Aboriginal person to contest a seat in the State government. She was not successful but kept up the fight for Aboriginal housing, employment, health and education. She was also involved in the Women's Christian Temperance Union and the Australian Union of Women and was an Australian delegate to the World Council of Churches Consultation on Racism in London in 1969. She publicised the Aboriginal cause all around the world.

Aunty Oodgeroo published a book of prose and poetry, My People, in 1970 but retired from many official duties the following year on doctor's orders. In 1972 she established 'Moongalba', an educational and cultural centre for children of all races on Stradbroke Island. It was a camp where children could experience and learn about the Aboriginal lifestyle.

She acted in Shadow Sister (1977), a film based on her life, and the Fringe Dwellers (1985). She also published two children's books Stradbroke Dreamtime (1972) and Father Sky and Mother Earth (1981). In 1988, she returned the MBE medal she had been awarded in 1970. She received honorary doctorates from four Australian universities and has been described as 'the mother of Australian Aboriginal writing'.