Treasure of the Month, Fryer Library
from the special collections of the Fryer Library
Kath Walker, Oodgeroo of the Noonuccal Clan

[1.] Kath Walker (Oodgeroo Noonuccal)

Kath Walker

was a poet, children’s author, educator, artist, political activist and member of the Noonuccal people of North Stradbroke Island, east of Brisbane. 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. Many other works of poetry and prose were to follow.

In the 1950s Walker’s personal experience of racism led her into the Indigenous political movement. She became involved with the Queensland Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (QCAATI), and was elected secretary in 1962. She also joined the Federal Council for Aboriginal Advancement.

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 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 and international profile which she used to great advantage in her political work, especially during the campaign for a yes vote in the 1967 referendum on Indigenous affairs. A tireless activist and powerful orator, she was one of the QCAATI’s most sought after speakers, regularly addressing meetings and giving press, radio and television interviews. 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 at her home, Moongalba. During the 1970s and 80s she continued to publish and speak out about the injustices endured by Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. As a writer and champion of Indigenous rights she travelled widely, visiting China, Europe, the United States and Africa.

In 1987, in protest at Australia’s forthcoming bicentennial celebrations, Walker adopted the traditional Noonuccal name Oodgeroo, meaning ’paperbark tree’, and returned an MBE awarded to her for services to the community. "From an Aboriginal point of view, what is there to celebrate?" she commented. Oodgeroo of the Noonuccal clan died in 1993.

Dr Jeff Rickertt, Fryer Library