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Speech: Dr Lowitja O'Donoghue

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I rise as, I believe, one of two Greens speakers to offer my condolences to the family and loved ones of Dr Lowitja O'Donoghue AC CBE DSG. Dr O'Donoghue was known not only to South Australians but right across the world. She is an incredibly inspiring household name, known for her staunch advocacy and of course her involvement in the development of First Nations rights for her country, our country.

She was born in 1932 and was a proud Yankunytjatjara woman and a fierce advocate for and leader of the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. At the age of two years, Dr O'Donoghue was removed from her mother and placed with missionaries at Colebrook children's home in Quorn in our state of South Australia. She reunited with her mother only in 1967, more than 30 years later.

In 1954, Dr O'Donoghue became the first Aboriginal person to train as a nurse at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, and thus began the start of her journey as one of Australia's most celebrated leaders. She overcame low expectations and immense discrimination. She was always told that she would not be able to do it, and yet she did it.

It is no wonder that she has inspired politicians, not just our own Attorney-General and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs but former Premier Don Dunstan and former Premier Steven Marshall,
and former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and former Prime Minister Paul Keating. They all count Dr O'Donoghue as an inspiration in their lives, with the impact that she had.

It is little wonder that she received many awards. In 1976, she became the first Aboriginal woman to be awarded the Order of Australia. In 1977, she was appointed the foundation Chair of the
National Aboriginal Conference and Chair of the Aboriginal Development Committee. In March 1990, she was appointed the founding Chairperson of ATSIC (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission). During this time, she played a key role in drafting the native title legislation that arose from the High Court's historic Mabo decision. Between 1996 and 2003, Dr O'Donoghue became the
inaugural Chair of the Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal and Tropical Health, which was later renamed the Lowitja Institute in her honour.

She has worked with politicians from right across all sides of politics. Her other numerous awards and accolades include being made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1983 and
Australian of the Year in 1984, during which time she became the first Aboriginal person to address the United Nations General Assembly. She also won the Advance Australia Award in 1982. She was made a National Living Treasure in 1998, was awarded a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) in 1999 and was named a Dame of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great (DSG), a papal award, in
2005—quite an extraordinary achievement.

In that address in 1992 in New York, as part of the International Year for the World's Indigenous People, Lowitja O'Donoghue, who spoke as an Aboriginal woman, was the first Aboriginal
woman to address the United Nations General Assembly. She, along with Torres Strait Islander leader, George Mye, a lifelong friend of Eddie Mabo, addressed that assembly. I gather it was sparsely filled and no heads of government attended. Indeed, it was on the same day as the Redfern speech of former Prime Minister Paul Keating. That speech that she delivered to the UN went thus:

It took the Indigenous people of Australia until 1967 to be recognised as Australians under the Australian Constitution. This year we celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of that Constitutional recognition. We were also given cause to celebrate this year as a result of a decision by the High Court of Australia in what is now known as the Mabo case. Mabo, a Torres Strait Islander, pursued indigenous rights unrelentingly. As a result, the highest court in the land overturned the doctrine of terra nullius. After 204 years Australian law has finally recognised that indigenous people did own their land at the time of European settlement in 1788. This recognition is greatly welcome. Indeed, it is more than two centuries overdue. But it remains to be seen what its practical effects will be. Our land and our culture are the two things in this world that we cherish above all else. We have been dispossessed and dispersed. Our culture has been threatened as a result of colonisation. Many of our languages have been lost. Our spiritual beliefs have been ridiculed. We have become marginalised in our own country. In this International Year for the World's Indigenous People we proudly celebrate one thing—our survival. But our survival has been against overwhelming odds.

Dr Lowitja O'Donoghue lived a life, I think, that prevailed against extraordinary odds. She was removed from a loving relationship as a child. She was not loved as a child is something that is reflected in the biography that I have read of her life. I just want to put on record that she is loved, not just by the South Australian people but by so many right across this nation. She is very loved, she is very respected and she will not be forgotten.

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