Lowitja O'Donoghue

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Lowitja O'Donoghue
Lois O'Donoghue

(1932-08-01) 1 August 1932 (age 88)
Other namesLois Smart
Known forPublic service
Spouse(s)Gordon Smart (deceased)

Lowitja Lois O'Donoghue Smart, AC, CBE, DSG (born Lois O'Donoghue; 1 August 1932[1]) is an Aboriginal Australian retired public administrator. In 1990-1996 she was the inaugural chairperson of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) (dismantled in 2004). She is patron of the Lowitja Institute, a research institute for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Lois O'Donoghue was born on 1 August 1932 in the remote Aboriginal community of Indulkana, the fifth of six children of the common-law marriage of Tom and Lily O'Donoghue. Her father was a stockman of Irish descent and her mother was a member of the Pitjantjatjara Aboriginal clan of northwest South Australia. After living at Everard Park, where they had two children, the O'Donoghues moved in 1925 to Granite Downs, a large cattle property bordering the east of the Stuart Highway in the north of South Australia.

Their four youngest children were born here, including Lois on 1 August 1932, who was baptised by a pastor from the United Aborigines' Mission. When she was just two years old, she and two of her sisters were taken away from their mother by missionaries on behalf of South Australia’s Aboriginal Protection Board to Oodnadatta run by the Baptists.[3] From here they were moved to the recently opened Colebrook Home in Quorn run by the Mission.[4]


In 1979 she married Gordon Smart, a medical orderly at the Repatriation Hospital whom she had first met in 1964. He died in 1992. He had six adult children from a previous marriage;[5] they had no children of their own. Following her retirement, she formally added the name Lowitja (an Aboriginal phonetic adaptation of her given name Lois) to her existing legal name, Lois O'Donoghue Smart, to emphasize her Luritjan Aboriginal heritage.[citation needed]


According to O'Donoghue she was very happy living at Colebrook and said she received a sound education both there and at the Quorn Primary School. The Quorn community at large actively encouraged children from the home to participate in local events, and assisted in the maintenance of the home. Only a few people objected to the integration.[6] In 1944 Colebrook Home moved to Eden Hills, South Australia, due to chronic water shortages, enabling her to attend Unley High School, a local public school, and obtain her Intermediate Certificate. She was taught up until the Leaving Certificate standard but did not sit for the examination.[7]

At Colebrook Home the elder children assisted in taking care of younger children. Thus, with this experience, at the age of 16, Lois O'Donoghue's first job was as a nanny looking after six children with a family in Victor Harbor some 85 km south of Adelaide. While attending the Baptist church there she was persuaded by the Matron of the South Coast District Hospital to take up nursing as a career.[citation needed]

Nursing career[edit]

Royal Adelaide Hospital[edit]

From 1950–53 O'Donoghue worked as a nursing aide in Victor Harbor. The small hospital did not run a comprehensive training course, so with the strong support and assistance of the matron, she applied to be a student nurse in Adelaide. After a long struggle to win admission to a training hospital, she became the first black nurse in South Australia. The Royal Adelaide Hospital policy at that time was to only take nursing students who had obtained their leaving certificate, so initially they would not consider taking her. Shortly afterwards the hospital introduced a plan to allow deserving students to be accepted without the necessary educational qualifications. In 1954, she was in the first intake of unqualified students to attend the Royal Adelaide Hospital, which offered good nursing career prospects. She qualified as a nurse and worked at the Royal Adelaide until 1961, being appointed a charge nurse just before leaving.[citation needed]


She spent time with the Baptist Church working in Assam, northern India as a nurse relieving missionaries who were taking leave back in Australia. Due to the nearby Sino-Indian War she was advised by the Australian government to evacuate to Calcutta, from where she would depart for her return to Australia.[7]

South Australian public servant[edit]

After returning in 1962, she worked as an aboriginal liaison officer with the South Australian Department of Education. She later transferred to the SA Department of Aboriginal Affairs and was employed as a welfare officer based mainly in the north of the state, in particular at Coober Pedy, some 200 kilometres south of her birthplace.[citation needed]

Commonwealth public service[edit]

Department of Aboriginal Affairs[edit]

In 1967 O'Donoghue joined the Commonwealth Public Service as a junior administrative officer in the Adelaide office of the newly formed Department of Aboriginal Affairs. After eight years she became the Director of the Department's office in South Australia, a senior officer position, responsible for the local implementation of national Aboriginal welfare policy. After a short while she left the public service and had various management/administrative roles with non-government organisations. She was appointed by the Government as chairperson of the Aboriginal Development Commission.[citation needed]

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission[edit]

In 1990 O'Donoghue was appointed Chairperson of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, a position she held until 1996. In 1991, with Alf Bamblett and Steve Gordon, she became one of the first Aboriginal people to attend a cabinet meeting.[citation needed] O'Donoghue used this occasion to put forward ATSIC's position with regard to the government's response to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.[8]

In December 1992, O'Donoghue became the first Aboriginal Australian to address the United Nations General Assembly during the launch of the United Nations International Year of Indigenous People. She was replaced as Chairperson by Gatjil Djerrkura, who was considered by the Howard Government to be more moderate.[8]


Lowitja was a chairperson of the National Aboriginal Conference for a short time in the early 1980s before it was dissolved due to internal disputes on its direction.[citation needed]

Member of the Stolen Generations[edit]

After the publication of the Bringing Them Home report in 1997, she said she preferred the word "removed" to the word "stolen" (as used in Stolen Generations) for her personal situation.[9] She was the youngest child in her family, and was two years old when she was removed from her mother.[10] After she was removed, she did not see her mother again for 33 years. During that time, her mother did not know where her family had been taken.[10]

Honours and awards[edit]

In 1976, O'Donoghue was the first Aboriginal woman to be inducted into the new Order of Australia founded by the Labor Australian Commonwealth Government. The award was in recognition of her work in the welfare field.[11]

O'Donoghue was invested as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1983, and was named Australian of the Year[12] in 1984, for her work to improve the welfare of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

She was invested as a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) on 26 January 1999.[13][14][15]

O'Donoghue has received honorary doctorates from Murdoch University, University of South Australia, Australian National University, Queensland University of Technology and Flinders University. In 2000 she was awarded an honorary professorial fellow at Flinders University and was a visiting fellow at Flinders University.

She is a National Patron at the Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre[16] and was inducted into the Olympic Order in 2000.[17]

In 2005 O'Donoghue was invested as a Dame of the Order of St Gregory the Great by Pope John Paul II.[18][19]

Since her inaugural oration at the Don Dunstan Foundation in 2007, the annual Lowitja O'Donoghue Oration has been held annually by the Foundation, with a series of speakers illuminating aspects of Indigenous Australians' past and future in Australian society.[20]

In May 2017 O'Donoghue was one of three Indigenous Australians, along with Tom Calma and Galarrwuy Yunupingu, honoured by Australia Post in the 2017 Legends Commemorative Stamp "Indigenous leaders" series to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum.[21]


  1. ^ This date is believed to be an estimate as no birth certificate was issued
  2. ^ "Our Patron". Lowitja Institute. Retrieved 24 July 2020.
  3. ^ https://www.lowitja.org.au/page/about-us/patron. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ "Colebrook Home". Flinders Ranges Research. Retrieved 30 December 2008.
  5. ^ Lawrence Money, "The good life", The Age, 6 December 2014, Spectrum, p. 4
  6. ^ "Lowitja O'Donoghue—Elder of our nation". State Library of South Australia. 2001. Archived from the original on 20 October 2008. Retrieved 31 December 2008.
  7. ^ a b O'Donoghue, Lowitja (22 March 1994). "Lowitja O'Donoghue". Australian Biography (Interview). Interviewed by Robin Hughes.
  8. ^ a b Tickner, Robert (2001). Taking a stand land rights to reconciliation: Land Rights to Reconciliation. Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86508-051-9.
  9. ^ Barrett, Rebecca (23 February 2001). "Stolen generation debate re-ignited". The World Today. ABC Local Radio. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 31 December 2008.
  10. ^ a b National Film and Sound Archive > Lowitja O'Donoghue – The Stolen Generation Retrieved 14 May 2014.
  11. ^ "O'Donoghue profile". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 31 December 2008.
  12. ^ Lewis, Wendy (2010). Australians of the Year. Pier 9 Press. ISBN 978-1-74196-809-5.
  13. ^ "Lowitja (Lois) O'Donoghue awarded CBE". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 31 December 2008.
  14. ^ "Australians of the year – 1984". National Australia Day Committee. Archived from the original on 15 June 2009. Retrieved 31 December 2008.
  15. ^ "Lowitja O'Donoghue profile". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 31 December 2008.
  16. ^ "The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre > Patrons". University of South Australia. Retrieved 1 April 2016.
  17. ^ "Recipients of the AOC Olympic Order". Australian Olympic Committee. Retrieved 31 December 2008.
  18. ^ "Our Patron, Dr Lowitja O'Donoghue AC CBE DSG". The Lowitja Institute. Australian Government Department of Industry, Innovation and Science. Retrieved 1 April 2016.
  19. ^ Catholic News > Pope honours 7 South Australians Retrieved 14 May 2014.
  20. ^ "Lowitja O'Donoghue Oration: 2020 Pat Anderson". Don Dunstan Foundation. Retrieved 6 March 2020.
  21. ^ "Australian Legends 2017: Indigenous Leaders". Australia Post Collectables. 29 May 2017. Retrieved 31 January 2020.

External links[edit]