Oodgeroo honoured

June 9, 2007

On June 1, around 150 people, including elders, family members, Noonuccal people of North Stradbroke Island and supporters of Aboriginal rights, gathered at Queensland University of Technology to pay tribute to Oodgeroo Noonuccal. This warrior woman's life as poet, political activist, artist and educator was honoured with the inaugural public lecture and awarding of scholarships in her name.

The meeting heard from members of Oodgeroo's family about her life. Oodgeroo (also known as Kath Walker) served in the army's Brisbane headquarters during WWII. After the war she joined the Communist Party of Australia and was an active member throughout the 1950s. Oodgeroo was the first Aboriginal poet to publish a volume of verse, with We Are Going in 1964, and many more volumes followed.

As Queensland state secretary for the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (1960-70), Oodgeroo was prominent in the campaign for the 1967 referendum on Aboriginal citizenship rights. In 1970, Oodgeroo was made a member of the Order of the British Empire, a title she returned in 1987 in protest against the Australian bicentenary celebrations.

Oodgeroo purchased Moongalba on North Stradbroke Island in 1970 and over the next 23 years, some 30,000 people visited her there. Many were children, from all cultural backgrounds, who she encouraged to learn more about Aboriginal culture and society.

Presenting the inaugural public lecture, Jacqui Katona, the CEO of the Lumbu Indigenous Community Foundation, said that still today, "Aboriginal people have a slim hold on citizenship". Katona reflected on the freedom rides and land rights campaign, and lamented, "My Mum saw increased freedoms for her children. My children see a tokenising of their freedoms."

Katona compared the current government policy of "mutual obligation" for funding with the policies of assimilation perpetrated by governments in the first half of the 20th century, adding that it is a "policy which denies Aboriginal people citizenship 40 years after they gained it".

Katona argued that Aboriginal people's marginalisation can be overturned by recognising land ownership. She said, "All that is left in native title legislation is a framework to help mining companies and pastoralists exploit Aboriginal land". She explained, "Our land is not a mere resource; it is part of our family", and urged everyone to "keep fighting government — defend, resist and defy!"

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