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Dr Lowitja O'Donoghue AM CBE

b. 1932

Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue (b.1932), Aboriginal rights campaigner, is a Yankunjatjara woman. Removed from her parents at the age of two, she was raised in a mission home and began campaigning for Indigenous rights after having been initially refused enrolment in nursing training at Royal Adelaide Hospital because of her Aboriginality. She qualified and worked as a nurse before joining the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in 1967. By 1975, she had become its regional director in South Australia.

She was elected Foundation Chair of the National Aboriginal Conference in 1977 and chaired the Aboriginal Development Commission from 1989 to 1990. She was the first Aboriginal woman to be awarded an Order of Australia and was honoured as Australian of the Year 1984 for her contribution to ‘bridging the cultural gap’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians: she nevertheless campaigned for the separation of the annual announcement of the award from Australia Day.

While Chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission between 1990 and 1996, she helped to draft the Mabo legislation. Recognised as a National Living Treasure, she has five honorary doctorates and an honorary Professorial Fellowship, and is an honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Physicians.

Currently she is Patron of Reconciliation South Australia and of the Lowitja Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health. ‘To be resentful’ she has stated, ‘just stands in the way of moving forward.’

Updated 2018