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Oodgeroo Noonuccal at Moongalba Stradbroke Island (her sitting down place)1982

by Juno Gemes

gelatin silver photograph (sheet: 60.7 x 50.9 cm, image: 44.0 x 32.0 cm)

Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) (1920–1993) was an Aboriginal activist, poet and writer. Throughout her life, she aimed to promote cultural pride amongst Aboriginal people through her writing, which she described as ‘sloganistic, civil rightish, plain and simple’. She became State secretary of the Federal Council for the advancement of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders in 1961, and campaigned successfully for amendments to Sections 51(xxvi) and 127 of the Constitution in 1967. In the 1970s she chaired a number of bodies set up to promote indigenous interests, including the Queensland Aboriginal Advancement League. Having gained world acclaim for her writing and advocacy (for which she was also conferred with three honorary doctorates), she published her last collection of poems, Kath Walker in China, in 1988. That year, she reassumed her tribal name in protest at the Bicentennial celebrations, and returned the MBE she had been awarded in 1970.

Juno Gemes arrived in Australia from Budapest with her family in 1949. Educated at the University of Sydney, she worked in theatre and journalism before holding her first solo exhibition, We Wait No More, in 1982. That year she exhibited photographs in the group shows After the Tent Embassy and Apmira – Artists for Aboriginal Land Rights. The National Portrait Gallery exhibited her portraits of Indigenous activists Proof: Portraits from the Movement in 2003 and has since acquired many of her photographs.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Juno Gemes 2009
Accession number: 2009.95