Vale Lowitja O'Donoghue

WARNING: This blog contains the name of an Aboriginal person who has died.

Lowitja O’Donoghue, a Yankunytjatjara woman, Australian activist and leader died on Sunday on Kaurna Country in Adelaide. Today the NSWCCL pays tribute to her life and work which led  groundbreaking reforms for Indigenous peoples across the nation.

Lowitja O’Donoghue, a member of the stolen generations was born on a cattle station in far north South Australia. At age two O'Donoghue was taken from her mother by missionaries and moved hundreds of kilometres away, her birthdate was unknown and so was assigned 1st August 1932 by the mission. Despite the myriad of challenges she faced, O'Donoghue wanted to train as a nurse but wasn’t permitted to  because she was Aboriginal.  After a lengthy battle lobbying the state premier she was eventually admitted as the first Indigenous trainee nurse in South Australia. Throughout this battle to get accepted, she became involved in activism to advance the legal rights of Indigenous peoples, joining and campaigning for the Aborigines' Advancement League of South Australia.

During the 1967 referendum providing recognition for Aboriginal peoples O’Donoghue advocated strongly for the yes vote. In 1977 O’Donoghue was appointed chairperson of the newly established National Aboriginal Conference where she went on to become the first Aboriginal Australian to address the United Nations General Assembly in 1993. O’Donoghue  was in the inaugural Chair of ATSIC and worked with Paul Keating on the Native Titles Act as a lead negotiator in 1993.

Throughout her life, O’Donoghue received many honours: Order of Australia; Commander of the Order of the British Empire; Australian of the Year; Australian National Living Treasure; Companion of the Order of Australia; Dame of the Order of St Gregory the Great – a papal honour even though she was not Catholic. She received many honorary doctorates from Australian universities. The Lowitja Institute, an Indigenous-controlled health research institute, was named in her honour.

We will remember Lowitja O’Donoghue as a pioneering activist who made an enormous contribution to both the political landscape in Australia and rights, health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people. Her moral clarity, great leadership and grace is remembered and missed. Thank you Lowitja.