Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue

I was born in Granite Downs in what is now known as Pitjantjatjara lands in the North-West of South Australia.  I was born at Granite Downs station, my Mother being a full Aboriginal woman, my Father the Irish station manager.  At the age of 2 I was removed from my family together with my two sisters, and a brother and sister had left earlier and been taken away.  Basically the reason was because we were half-caste, a term that was used quite regularly in our early days, one that we don’t like used these days.  I am a Yulkujara woman from North West of South Australia and I want to be known that way.  My name was changed from Lowitja to Lois by the missionaries and since I left ATSIC really but more so since the “Bringing them home” report of 1997 I made it quite clear that I retain my name and my culture land my heritage and I am pleased to say that really that has been very well respected by everyone right across Australia.  The people of course who have been most difficult are the people closest to me and my family.  I am pleased to see this morning Margaret started off by calling me Lois, the second time around she referred to me as Lowitja.  Thank you for that Margaret.  That goes to show that the people closest to you are the ones who find that to be difficult.  I of course was brought up in a very religious mission background and very disciplined, and the authorities were well educated – it was a very disciplined life and the authorities had no ambitions for us.  The girls were brought up to be domestic servants and the boys to be stockmen.  All of us or those older than us left at the age of 12 or 13.  By the time I was leaving at the age of 16, on our birthday we were told that we were going out to work, because as I said this morning, I in fact was seen as someone who stood up for myself and for others and I wasn’t going to turn out any good.  I decided at a very early age that I would show the mission authorities that I could in fact achieve something in life.  I believe I have done that. 

Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue initially a nursing aide, applied to complete her training at Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH) but was refused. She fought the decision and it was overturned, and she became the first Aboriginal person to train as a nurse at RAH. As a public administrator she became active in Aboriginal Affairs and was appointed the Inaugural Chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) 1990–96. She is the recipient of Honorary Doctorates from three Australian Universities, and in 1998 was declared an Australian National Living Treasure; she was also named Australian of the Year in 1984. In 2010, Australia’s National institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research was named the Lowitja Institute in her honour.

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