Dr Lowitja O'Donoghue AC CBE

In 1989, Dr Lowitja O'Donoghue became the first woman chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission.

Honour Roll

Dr O'Donoghue was born on 1 August 1932 at Indulkana, South Australia. Her mother was a Pitjantjatjara woman and her father was Irish. She was taken from her mother at two years of age and raised at the United Aboriginal Mission Home at Quorn, South Australia. She would not see her mother again for 33 years.

Lowitja went to Unley Girls' Technical High School and then successfully fought to train as a registered nurse at Royal Adelaide Hospital. In 1956, she became the first Aboriginal woman to qualify as a nurse in South Australia. After spending a year nursing in India in 1961-62, she worked as a nurse with the Aboriginal Welfare Remote Communities for the next decade. She also was involved with the Aboriginal Police Liaison Committee and the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement.

In 1967, she joined South Australia's Department of Aboriginal Affairs and became Regional Director (1975-79). In 1977, she became Foundation Chair of the National Aboriginal Conference. She chaired the Aboriginal Hostels Ltd (1982-90) and the Aboriginal Development Commission (1989-90). Lowitja went on to become the Foundation Chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) from 1990-96 and went on to restructure Aboriginal bureaucracies.

In 1993, she became a member of the Republic Advisory Committee and was also a key consultant in drafting the Federal Government's Mabo legislation. She married in 1979, but her husband, Gordon Plumer Smart died in 1991. In 1984, Lowitja was named Australian of the Year in recognition of 'her enormous personal contribution in bridging the gap between Aboriginal people and the rest of the Australian community'. Lowitja O'Donoghue is an outstanding woman.