We need help, not exploitation,
We want freedom, not frustration;
Not control, but self-reliance,
Independence, not compliance...
('Aboriginal Charter of Rights', UQFL84, Box 27, Poems)
In 1962, Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders from Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia were granted voting rights in Australian Federal elections. It was not until 1965 that Indigenous people won the right to vote in Queensland state elections and not until 1967 that they were awarded full citizenship rights.
Born Kathleen Jean Mary Walker, Oodgeroo Noonuccal was instrumental in winning the vote for Indigenous people. She is one of Australia's most respected poets and a noted educator and political activist, who fought to improve conditions for her people.
Oodgeroo was elected Queensland State Secretary for the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI) in 1962. She worked tirelessly towards gaining equal opportunities and equal citizenship for Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. In a paper delivered to the FCAATSI conference in 1969, Oodgeroo called for collective Indigenous action in order to achieve basic rights:
[w]hen you leave this conference and go back to your rat holes — rat holes you call your homes, that you have inherited from the Australian society, unite your people and bring them out fighting. (Political Rights for Aborigines, FCAATSI Conference, 5 April 1969, p. 4. UQFL84, Box 30)
Oodgeroo stood as the Labor Party member for the electorate of Greenslopes in the 1969 State election. Although voting rights had only been in place four years, Oodgeroo decided it was time to:
[s]how our black faces in parliament.
(Kathie Cochrane, Oodgeroo, St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1994, p. 77)
In 2005, there is yet to be an Indigenous woman elected to Queensland parliament.
In 1970, Oodgeroo was awarded an MBE which she accepted in the hope of advancing the Aboriginal cause. Disillusioned, she returned it in 1987 in protest at the many injustices perpetrated against Indigenous populations on the dawn of Australia’s bicentenary. It is around this time she reclaimed her traditional name, Oodgeroo of the Noonuccal Tribe.