Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Opposition Whip) (13:53): I rise to acknowledge an extraordinary Australian, Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue, who was born in my electorate of Grey and passed away 4 February at age 91. Dr O’Donoghue was a Yankunytjatjara woman who was born in Indulkana—in what is now the APY Lands—in northern South Australia, and was the youngest of five. She grew up in the care of missionaries at Colebrook children’s home in Quorn, and, while this upbringing may have been less than ideal, she persevered and succeeded.
Initially prevented from studying nursing because of her race, she was later accepted into the Royal Adelaide Hospital in 1954 and reached the position of charge sister. She spent many years working in remote Indigenous communities advocating for a better deal for Aboriginal people and was a strong campaigner in the ’67 referendum.
In 1990, Dr O’Donoghue was appointed the inaugural chairperson of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. In what were probably ATSIC’s most successful years—it prospered under her direction—she won broad admiration for her leadership, tenacity and integrity. Dr O’Donoghue was named a Member of the Order of Australia, Australian of the Year, Commander of the Order of the British Empire, Companion of the Order of Australia and received honorary doctorates from six universities. She won the Advance Australia Award, became a National Living Treasure in 1998 and was awarded a papal honour from Pope John Paul II.
A fierce advocate for Indigenous communities, she was a compelling and reasonable voice which cut through where sometimes a more robust approach could struggle. Australia is in debt to her service.