Oodgeroo Noonuccal

Aboriginal Australian poet, artist, teacher and campaigner for Indigenous rights

Oodgeroo Noonuccal (/ˈʊdɡər/ /ˈnnəkəl/ UUD-gə-roo NOO-nə-kəl; born Kathleen Jean Mary Ruska, formerly Kath Walker; 3 November 1920 – 16 September 1993) was an Australian poet, political activist, artist and teacher. She was best known for her poetry, and was the first Aboriginal Australian to publish a book of verse.[1] Oodgeroo Noonuccal is a traditional Quandamooka name that she adopted for herself in 1988 (Oodgeroo refers to the paperbark tree, and Noonuccal is the name of her tribe).[2]

Oodgeroo Noonuccal
UQFL301 b9f1 photo 0002x.jpg
Photo of Oodgeroo Noonuccal (centre)
Kathleen Jean Mary Ruska

3 November 1920
Died16 September 1993(1993-09-16) (aged 72)
Altona Meadows, Victoria, Australia
Other namesKath Walker; Kathleen Ruska
Educationbook keeping, typing, & shorthand
Occupationdomestic servant, corporal, writer, educator, poet
Known forpoetry, acting, writing, Aboriginal rights activism
Political partyCommunist Party of Australia
Spouse(s)Bruce Walker
ChildrenDennis Walker, Vivian Walker
Parent(s)Ted and Lucy Ruska

Oodgeroo campaigned strongly for Aboriginal rights.[3] She was one of the main people behind the campaign for the changes to the Australian constitution in 1967. These changes gave Aboriginal people full citizenship. She also campaigned for Prime Minister Robert Menzies and his successor Harold Holt.[4][5]

She wrote many books, beginning with We Are Going (1964), the first book to be published by an Aboriginal woman. This first book of poetry was very successful, and Oodgeroo became one of Australia's best-selling poets.[6] Her writing contained strong political messages.[7] Oodgeroo described her own style as "sloganistic".[8] She wanted to show how proud she was of being an Aboriginal. She wanted her writing to make people support equality and Aboriginal rights.[9] Oodgeroo won several literary awards, including the Mary Gilmore Medal (1970), the Jessie Litchfield Award (1975), and the Fellowship of Australian Writers' Award.

In 1972 she opened an educational centre in her hometown of Moongalba, on North Stradbroke Island.[3] The centre taught children about nature and Aboriginal culture.[10]

Oodgeroo was made a member of the Order of the British Empire in 1970. She returned it in 1987 to protest the Australian bicentenary celebrations and to make a political statement about social inequality in Australia.[2][11]


  1. "Oodgeroo Noonuccal." Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, Vol. 27. Gale, 2007
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Oodgeroo Noonuccal Biography - life, family, childhood, children, name, story, history, school, mother, born, year". www.notablebiographies.com.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Land, Clare (26 August 2002). "Oodgeroo Noonuccal (1920–1993)". Australian Women's Archives Project. Retrieved 14 March 2007.
  4. Cochrane & Wright, p. 67
  5. Darling, Elaine (1998) They spoke out pretty good: politics and gender in the Brisbane Aboriginal Rights Movement 1958–1962 St Kilda: Janoan Media Exchange, p. 189.
  6. Mitchell 1987, pp. 200–2
  7. Rooney, Brigid, Literary activists: writer-intellectuals and Australian public life, (St Lucia, Qld. : University of Queensland Press, 2009, pp. 68–9
  8. Kath Walker, "Aboriginal Literature" Identity 2.3 (1975) pp. 39–40
  9. Cochrane & Wright, p. 37
  10. Mitchell 1987, p. 206
  11. Melbourne, National Foundation for Australian Women and The University of. "Oodgeroo Noonuccal - Woman - The Australian Women's Register". www.womenaustralia.info.


  • Cochrane, Kathie; Wright, Judith (1994), Oodgeroo, St Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press, ISBN 0-7022-2621-1
  • Mitchell, Susan (1987), The matriarchs : twelve Australian women talk about their lives to Susan Mitchell, Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin Australia, ISBN 0-14-008659-5

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