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Lowitja O'Donoghue
, 2006

by Robert Hannaford

oil on canvas (frame: 159.7 cm x 159.7 cm, support: 136.8 cm x 136.8 cm)

Lowitja O’Donoghue AC CBE (b. 1932), Indigenous rights campaigner, is a Yankunjatjara woman. Removed from her mother at the age of two, she was raised in a mission home and worked as a nurse before she joined the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in 1967. By 1975, she had become its regional director in South Australia. She was Foundation Chair of the National Aboriginal Conference in 1977 and chaired the Aboriginal Development Commission from 1989 to 1990. While Chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission between 1990 and 1996, she helped to draft the Mabo legislation. She has five honorary doctorates and an honorary Professorial Fellowship, and is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal Australian College of Physicians. In 2005 she received the Papal honour of Dame of the Order of St Gregory the Great. O’Donoghue was Australian of the Year in 1984, when she became the first Aboriginal person to address the General Assembly of the United Nations. She is a designated National Living Treasure.

Robert Hannaford (b. 1944) was political cartoonist for the Adelaide Advertiser for three years, and took up portrait painting full-time with the encouragement of the veteran South Australian portraitist, Sir Ivor Hele. He has been a favourite in both the Archibald Prize – in which he has been a finalist nineteen times, and won the People’s Choice Award three times – and the Doug Moran Portrait Prize, which he won in 1990. From the first sitting Hannaford was excited about the portrait of O’Donoghue; he observed a ‘vast understanding and sympathy in her face, a sadness,’ but also thought she looked ‘fantastic in that light I’ve got in that studio’. The portrait process involved many hours’ sittings during a period in which the artist was undergoing treatment for cancer; Hannaford and O’Donoghue became friends. The portrait is one of the most popular in the Gallery’s collection.
Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased with funds donated by BHP Billiton Limited, Rio Tinto Aboriginal Fund, Newmont Australia Limited, Reconciliation Australia, Hon Paul Keating and Hon Fred Chaney 2006
Accession number: 2006.91