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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Resilience

Indigenous leadership

Since the inauguration of the Australian of the Year Awards, nine Indigenous people have been acknowledged. The five here have shown remarkable resilience in their leadership and include a number of ‘firsts’: first Indigenous Australia parliamentarian, Senator Neville Bonner (AoY 1979) and first Indigenous Australian woman to head a major government department, Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue (AoY 1984). Spanning two generations – Neville Bonner was born in 1922 and Adam Goodes (AoY 2014) in 1980 – these five recipients have witnessed great changes, although challenges remain: from racism to reconciliation, dispossession to equality of opportunity.

As a teenager, Galarrwuy Yunupingu (AoY 1978) helped his father to write the 1963 Bark Petition to federal government, Australia’s first Land Rights claim. He and several senior Indigenous leaders presented their own bark petition – the Barunga Statement – to Prime Minister Hawke 25 years later. The 1970s saw a more political engagement: Neville Bonner entered federal parliament as a Liberal Senator, Lowitja O’Donoghue was made Chair of the National Aboriginal Council in 1978 and Galarrwuy Yunupingu became Chairman of the Northern Land Council in 1977.

Although education was the primary motivator for Mandawuy Yunupingu as the first Indigenous principal of Yirrkala School, he came to national and international prominence as the lead singer in the band Yothu Yindi and their worldwide hit, ‘Treaty’.

Dual Brownlow Medal winner Adam Goodes’s challenge to endemic racism in Australian football follows the examples set by fellow Indigenous AFL legends, Nicky Winmar and Michael Long.

Their Australian of the Year Awards reflect the commitment and resilience of these Indigenous Australian leaders. 

7 portraits

1 Mandawuy Yunupingu, 1991 (printed 2011) Lorrie Graham. © Lorrie Graham. 2 Senator Bonner, 1990 Robert Campbell Jnr. © Estate of Robert Campbell Jnr. Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney. 3 Lowitja O'Donoghue, 2006 Robert Hannaford AM. © Commonwealth of Australia.

Related information

Lowitja O'Donoghue
Lowitja O'Donoghue
Lowitja O'Donoghue
Lowitja O'Donoghue

Awesome Achievers

A cross-curriculum learning resource

Learning resources

What makes someone awesome? And how does a portrait tell a person's story? Bring your students up close and personal with some great Australians. For upper primary school students.

The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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