Queensland Organisations and Activists

Kath Walker (Oodgeroo Noonuccal)

Born Kathleen Jean Mary Ruska on 3 November 1920, Kath Walker was a poet, children's author, educator, artist, political activist and member of the Noonuccal people of North Stradbroke Island, Queensland. She left school at the age of thirteen to become a domestic in Brisbane, served as a telephonist with the Australian Women's Army Service in World War Two and published her first book of poetry, We Are Going, in 1964.

Image 4C: Kath Walker (Oodgeroo Noonuccal)

In the 1950s her personal experience of racism led her into the indigenous political movement. She became involved with QCAATI, and was elected secretary in 1962. She also joined FCAA.

Although loyal to these organisations, Walker was not convinced they could provide answers to Australia's deep-seated racism towards Aborigines. Her quest for fundamental political solutions to indigenous disadvantage soon propelled her into the orbit of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) and the Union of Australian Women, both of which she joined in these years.

Her reputation as a poet continued to grow. We Are Going was a resounding success and gave Walker a national profile which she used to great advantage during the referendum campaign. A tireless activist and a powerful orator, she was one of the Council's most sought after speakers, regularly addressing meetings and giving press, radio and television interviews.

In 1963 Walker was a member of the FCAA delegation that met Prime Minister Menzies, where, according to Faith Bandler, she made an impression over drinks by counselling Menzies that under Queensland law he could be gaoled for supplying alcohol to Aborigines.

Walker shared in the jubilation of the referendum outcome but was bitterly disappointed by the lack of follow up by conservative governments. "It gave Australia a better image overseas but did nothing for the Aborigine," she concluded later.

In 1969 she stood unsuccessfully as the Labor Party candidate for the Queensland state seat of Greenslopes. Walker returned to Stradbroke Island in 1971, where she established an education and cultural centre. During the 1970s and 80s she continued to speak out about the injustices endured by indigenous people.

In 1987, in protest at the forthcoming bicentennial celebrations, she adopted the traditional name Oodgeroo and returned an MBE awarded to her for services to the community. "From an Aboriginal point of view, what is there to celebrate?," she said. Oodgeroo died in 1993.

 

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