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Oodgeroo Noonuccal Biography | Poet

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Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) (November 3, 1920 - September 16, 1993) was an Australian poet, actress, writer, teacher, artist and a campaigner for Aboriginal rights. Oodgeroo was best known for her poetry, and was the first Aboriginal Australian to publish a book of verse.

Oodgeroo was born in Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island) in Moreton Bay (east of Brisbane), the traditional land and waters of the Noonuccal people. Baptised Kathleen Jean Mary Ruska, she was the second youngest of six children to parents Ted and Lucy Ruska. Ted was a labourer and led a strike in 1935; he instilled a fierce sense of justice in his daughter, with whom he shared the dreaming totem Kabul (the carpet snake).

Oodgeroo loved the sea and the seashore, but not her schooling. She wrote with her left hand, and was punished for it. She left school at age 13 in 1933, at the height of the Depression, to work as a domestic servant in Brisbane. Then, after the outbreak of World War II in 1940, she volunteered with brothers Eddie and Eric for war service, serving in the Australian Women's Army Service as a communication worker. There she received training in book keeping, typing & shorthand, and reached the rank of corporal.

She married Bruce Walker, an Aboriginal welder and boxer, in 1942 but they had gone their separate ways by the time her first son, son, Denis Walker, was born in December 1946. In the early 1950s she began work as a domestic in the household of Raphael Cilento and during this time she conceived and gave birth to her second son Vivian Walker (February 1953–February 20, 1991). During this time she joined the Communist Party of Australia, which was the only Australian political party at the time to not have a White Australia policy.

Through the 1960s she began to emerge as a prominent figure, both as a political activist and as a writer. She was Queensland state secretary of the Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (CAATSI), and was involved in a number of other political organisations. She was a key figure in the campaign for the reform of the Australian constitution to allow Aboriginal people full citizenship, lobbying Prime Minister Robert Menzies in 1965, and his successor Harold Holt in 1966.

She wrote many books, beginning with We Are Going (1964), the first book to be published by an Aboriginal woman, and won several literary awards, such as the Mary Gilmore Medal (1970), the Jessie Litchfield Award (1975), and the Fellowship of Australian Writers’ Award. She was also awarded an MBE in 1970.

In 1972 she bought a property on Minjerribah which she called Moongalba ('sitting-down place'), and established the Noonuccal-Nughie Education and Cultural Centre. In 1985 she appeared with her grandson, Denis Walker (Jr) in Bruce Beresford’s film The Fringedwellers.

In 1988 she adopted her traditional name Oodgeroo (meaning "paperbark tree") and returned her MBE in protest at the condition of her people in the year of Australia's Bicentenary celebrations. She died in 1993.

Oodgeroo Noonuccal: Poems | Best Poems | Short Poems | Quotes