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Aboriginal Australian Lucy Walker, mother of lauded poet and activist, Kath Walker/Oodgeroo Noonuccal (1920-1993), was in an institution for four years.

Lucy Walker was born Lucy McCulloch in rural Queensland. Her mother was an Aboriginal woman and her father a Scottish migrant. When she was ten years old, Lucy was taken from her family and sent to a Catholic institution in Brisbane. There Lucy was trained up to become a domestic servant and at the age of fourteen she began working “as a housemaid in rural Queensland” (Abbey).

Lucy went on to have seven children with her husband Ted Ruska, a Noonuccal man and labourer. Oodgeroo Noonuccal (1920-1993) was born Kathleen Jean Mary Ruska in suburban Brisbane to Lucy and Ted, the second youngest of their children.

Kathleen, or Kate as she was known until she changed her name to Oodgeroo Noonuccal in 1988, grew up on North Stradbroke Island or Minjerribah, a sub-tropical island accessible from Brisbane via water taxi and ferry. She left school at thirteen and went to Brisbane to work as a domestic. During World War II, Kate enlisted in the Australian Women’s Army Service.

Kate became politically active through during the 1940s through the Communist Party and she published her first book of poetry in 1964. Being “the first published Aboriginal poet”, Kath Walker shot to prominence and “sales of her poetry were claimed to rank second to Australia’s best-selling poet, C.J. Dennis” (Abbey). Kath Walker’s – she was married for a short time to Bruce Walker – poetry was often dismissed by critics as ‘protest poetry’ but she won numerous awards nonetheless.

A long-term activist on behalf of Aboriginal rights, Oodgeroo Noonuccal returned to Minjerribah in 1971 and set up an educational facility for teaching Aboriginal culture to children. She published her children’s books, the autobiographical Stradbroke Dreamtime in 1972 and Father Sky and Mother Earth in 1981.

Oodgeroo Noonuccal has been honoured with many awards, including honorary doctorates from Macquarie (1988), Griffith (1989) and Monash (1991) universities. The Queensland University of Technology awarded Oddgeroo an honorary doctorate in 1992 and in 2006 named in her honour its centre for Aboriginal and Torrens Strait student support.


Abbey, Sue. “Noonuccal, Oodgeroo (1920-1993).” Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol.19 (2021).

“Oodgeroo Noonuccal aka Kath Walker.” Australian Children’s Poetry Website.

“Oodgeroo Noonuccal Biography.” Encyclopedia of World Biography.