Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue AC CBE DSG: Fearless, determined, nation builder

With the passing of Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue AC CBE DSG, we have lost a formidable leader of our movement.

We remember Dr O’Donoghue as a strong, fearless woman, who engaged with politics and with institutions at a time when Aboriginal women were under-recognised and under-represented in national leadership.

Her nine decades of life span a time of momentous change in Australian Indigenous politics; but her work extended way beyond the confines of First Nations policy and had a profound impact on the entire country. She was a nation builder.

She was there at every milestone and achievement for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

She was a renowned consensus builder and as a leader was highly skilled in gently moving protagonists towards agreement.

Her life impacted all of us – black and white – and her spirit, energy and dedication live on.

She campaigned during the 1967 referendum, was the founding chair of the National Aboriginal Conference in 1977 and the first chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) in 1990.

Dr O’Donoghue was also a member of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. She said at the beginning of the reconciliation process:

“We have a long way to go but there is no turning back. For Indigenous Australians, the acid test of reconciliation will be improved health, better housing, education and employment.

Reconciliation is the way of the future, our shared future in which Australia is united as one people with many rich cultures and a commitment to justice and equity.”

Her life and her work inspires us all to do better and to keep going.

Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this sad time.

Read the statement on behalf of the O’Donoghue Family.

Paul House with gum leaves and smoke
Paul Girrawah House

Paul Girrawah House has multiple First Nation ancestries from the South-East Canberra region, including the Ngambri-Ngurmal (Walgalu), Pajong (Gundungurra), Wallabollooa (Ngunnawal) and Erambie/Brungle (Wiradyuri) family groups.

Paul acknowledges his diverse First Nation history, he particularly identifies as a descendant of Onyong aka Jindoomang from Weereewaa (Lake George) and Henry ‘Black Harry’ Williams from Namadgi who were both multilingual, essentially Walgalu-Ngunnawal-Wiradjuri speaking warriors and Ngunnawal–Wallaballooa man William Lane aka ‘Billy the Bull’ - Murrjinille.

Paul was born at the old Canberra hospital in the centre of his ancestral country and strongly acknowledges his First Nation matriarch ancestors, in particular his mother Dr Aunty Matilda House-Williams and grandmother, Ms Pearl Simpson-Wedge.

Paul completed a Bachelor of Community Management from Macquarie University, and Graduate Certificate in Wiradjuri Language, Culture and Heritage and Management from CSU.

Paul provided the Welcome to Country for the 47th Opening of Federal Parliament in 2022. Paul is Board Director, Ngambri Local Aboriginal Land Council, Member Indigenous Reference Group, National Museum of Australia and Australian Government Voice Referendum Engagement Group.  

Paul works on country with the ANU, First Nations Portfolio as a Senior Community Engagement Officer

Acknowledgement of Country

Reconciliation Australia acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing  connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present. 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that this website contains images or names of people who have passed away.

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