Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker)
Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) was a poet, an actress, writer, teacher, artist and a campaigner for Aboriginal rights. But she was best known for her poetry. Oodgeroo was the first Aboriginal Australian to have a book of poetry published. Her poetry speaks of hope for understanding and peace between black and white Australians.
“But I'll tell instead of brave and fine
when lives of black and white entwine.
And men in brotherhood combine,
this would I tell you, son of mine.”
Oodgeroo began writing poems when she was young, but it wasn't until she was in her forties that a well-known writer encouraged Oodgeroo to publish them.
“She said something to me that I've never forgotten. I said, I didn't think they were good enough and she said ‘girl, these are not your poems. They belong to the people. You are just the tool that writes them down’.”
Oodgeroo kept writing, and became recognised around the world as an outstanding poet. Her Aboriginal upbringing was her main inspiration. Oodgeroo grew up on North Stradbroke Island, near Brisbane. Here, surrounded by the sea and the bushland she'd wander off for hours exploring. Nature became very important to her.
“Whenever my Mother used to rouse about me being a wanderer and going off on my own looking for shells and feathers and things like that she used to say you'll have to stop her from wandering and Dad used to say ‘leave her alone, she's different’.”
Oodgeroo used to say she got her stubbornness from her father. It came out at school when the teachers forced her to write with her right hand, even though she was left handed. Young Oodgeroo suffered many blows across the back of her left knuckles before she finally gave in. Her Father also taught her to be proud of her Aboriginality.
“Dad always said to me ‘you’re black, you're Aboriginal, always be proud of it, but always know this, that if you're going to do anything in this world you've not only got to be as good as the white person, you've got to be better.’”
In the 1960s, Oodgeroo campaigned for Aboriginal rights. Until then Aboriginal Australians didn't even have the right to vote. Oodgeroo fought for equality. She travelled across Australia, giving as many as ten talks a day. The campaign was successful. In 1967 Aboriginal Australians could finally have an equal say in how their country was run. Oodgeroo Noonuccal continued to fight for her people. She travelled the world, telling others about the dreadful conditions Aborigines were living under.
But Oodgeroo felt people weren't listening to her, conditions weren't improving. Frustrated, she decided to go back to the place she loved, her tribal land on North Stradbroke Island. The Noonuccals call their land Moongalba, which means 'sitting down place'. It's very sacred to them.
“At night time you can hear the old people talking lingo down here, especially on a calm night, you can hear it, the spirits are all around here.”
But the Government said it owned Moongalba and Oodgeroo wasn't allowed to build anything there. She wanted to turn it into an Aboriginal museum. The only way she could stay on her land was to camp there, in a caravan and tents. Oodgeroo invited children, both black and white, to share her land and learn the Aboriginal ways.
“Over 30,000 children have been here in the last 20 years … if they only come once it's embedded in their mind because here no one passes judgement on them, they have to be their own judge and jury.”
When Oodgeroo Noonuccal died hundreds of people mourned, but that's not what she wanted. Oodgeroo wanted people to celebrate her achievements and to continue working for true understanding between all Australians.