Reading 8C: Ooodgeroo Noonuccal 1920 - 1993

Oodgeroo Noonuccal 1920-1993

Describing herself as an educator and storyteller, Oodgeroo (meaning 'paperbark tree') of the Noonuccal tribe of Minjerriba (North Stradbroke Island, Queensland) was an Aboriginal poet, environmentalist and leader in the struggle for Aboriginal rights.

She was educated at Dunwich State School, became a domestic servant at thirteen and joined the army during the Second World War. In 1942 she married her childhood friend Bruce Walker. She had two sons. In 1988, Kath Walker readopted her tribal name as a protest against Australia's Bicentenary celebrations and a symbol of her Aboriginal pride.

Oodgeroo was politically active from the late 1940s and became one of the most prominent Aboriginal voices. She joined the Communist Party of Australia, the only political party opposed to the White Australia policy at the time, and from the early 1960s held key positions in the Aboriginal civil rights movement. She was a founding member and Queensland state secretary of FCAATSI, and a leader of the successful 1967 referendum campaign. She later chaired the National Tribal Council, the Aboriginal Arts Board, the Aboriginal Housing Committee and the Queensland Aboriginal Advancement League.

We Are Going, the first book of poetry by an Aboriginal writer and the first book by an Aboriginal woman, was published in 1964. In the following years Oodgeroo wrote numerous volumes of poetry, books for children, a play, essays, speeches and books illustrated with her own artworks, including The Dawn is at Hand (1966), My People: A Kath Walker collection (1970), Stories from Stradbroke (1972), Kath Walker in China (1988), The Rainbow Serpent (1988) and Australia's Unwritten History: More legends of our land (1992). She travelled widely overseas, representing Aboriginal writing and culture. For many years Oodgeroo lived at Moongalba (,sitting-down place'), her home on Minjerriba, where she established the Noonuccal-Nughie Education and Cultural Centre and for over two decades shared her culture and way of life with thousands of visitors. The grandmother of Aboriginal poetry was buried on Minjerriba with great ceremony.

Macquarie Pen Anthology of Aboriginal Literature
Edited by Anita Heiss and Peter Minter
Allen and Unwin, 2008


Speech Launching the Petition of the Federal Council for Aboriginal Advancement

[ ... ] I feel now that I must bring in two very important words, they are integration and assimilation. There seems to be much confusion around these two words, the policy of the government up till now has been that of assimilation for my people. Now, boiled down, assimilation means the swallowing up by a majority group of a minority group. My people, the Aboriginal people, are the minority group and they can only be assimilated by the final wiping out of this minority group. Now it is not our desire to have this happen, they have tried hard to do this, but it has not been successful and we feel that this is the most inhuman way of bringing my people forward, we feel that something must be done about it, so picture if you can, in my attempt to explain to you these two very important words, picture if you can a river which we will call the river of ignorance with two banks, the one on the right side we shall call the civilisation side of the bridge, the other side-stone age. Imagine a span from the civilised side of the bridge up and we shall call that span assimilation. Now my people on the stone age side of the bridge have to jump the big gap to the assimilation side span of the bridge. Some made it, I was fortunate enough to be one of them, to have made this big jump, but there are thousands of my people who did not, and they fell to the river bank below and were forced to live like scavengers on the rubbish dumps of the white race. These are our fringe dwellers, they have come too far and cannot climb back to what used to be, but they have not yet reached the stage where they can stand side by side with the white race. Of all my people, I'm most upset about the fringe dwellers. Much help is needed for them. How then, can we help the fringe dwellers?

Now then, let us put the other span of the bridge in, the span from the stone age side of the bridge, and we'll call it integration. Integration means the bringing forward of a race of people with their own identity and their own pride intact. They would come forward onto the integration side of the bridge with such things as their culture and their language. No doubt the old people would want to stay at the integration side of the bridge, so let it be. Let the choice be that of my people, they should be allowed to stay there. But the young people who are forever pushing on, would no doubt cross to the assimilation side of the bridge and so on to the assimilation side of the river. But when they crossed this bridge, the young people would do so, proud of the fact that they were of Aboriginal blood, happy to be what they are, and not going forward as replicas of the white race. Assimilation can only bring us forward as replicas of the white race; this is not what we desire, we desire to be Aboriginals, proud of this fact, and when they stood on the other side of the bridge amongst the civilized people, the white people, they would stand there as a friend and neighbour alongside the white man, respecting his way of life and expecting him in return to respect the Aboriginal's way of life. Now I find in my tour through, that the Aboriginal's knowledge is much greater than that of the white man in one respect. He knows more about the white man than the white man knows about us, and this is something that we must get together and rectify. We took time off, we, the Aboriginals took time off to understand what the white man wanted and to respect his views, this has not happened on the white man's side of the bridge and now the time has come when he himself must get to know us and understand us and respect us for what we want. I know that the present generation is not responsible for the past, I cannot blame the present white man or woman nor will I hold him or her responsible for what has happened in the past. I care not about the past, but the future I am worried about. The future is what we want, a bigger and brighter future for both races. I will however, and I feel I'm justified, I will hold the present white man and woman responsible for what happens to my people in the future. This I feel is their responsibility as well as mine. 1962