Compiled by Lilas-Mae Njoo, Elektra Politis and Martin Newman.
This list is in no particular order. It is not a list of the ‘greatest’ Indigenous Australians, because to do so would risk leaving many worthy people out. We don’t doubt some examples of truly great individuals have been lost altogether through years of indifference towards First Nations peoples, their history and their relevance to the country.
So, this is a list of great, interesting, admirable, talented, essential people, taken from all walks of life, including politics, social activism, sport, the arts, community, as well as the early colonial figures who fought for their place in their own land. It is a list that should fascinate and will open the eyes of some to the great achievements of a people whose contribution has routinely been dismissed or ignored by our history, books and the media.
WARNING: This story contains the names and images of deceased people.
David Unaipon (Inventor)
David Ngunaitponi, known as David Unaipon, was a preacher, inventor, and author, who significantly contributed to breaking stereotypes and advancing the rights of Aboriginal Australians. Born on September 28, 1872, at the Point McLeay Mission in South Australia, Unaipon was the fourth child of James and Nymbulda Ngunaitponi, hailing from the Ngarrindjeri people. From a young age, he displayed remarkable intelligence, earning praise for his wit and intellect.
Inventor David Unaipon. Photo: State Library of NSW
Unaipon left school at 13, briefly working as a servant in Adelaide before returning to Point McLeay to apprentice as a bootmaker. He served as the mission organist and later worked as a bookkeeper.
In 1902, he married Katherine Carter, and embarked on a career as a preacher and deputationer, advocating for the Point McLeay Mission, work that involved extensive travel and preaching engagements.
Unaipon’s inventive spirit led him to pursue the creation of a perpetual motion machine, during which time he developed numerous devices. Although he was unable to afford full patents for his inventions, they included advancements in fields like sheep-shearing handpieces and mechanical propulsion devices. He also explored concepts related to flight and light polarisation.
In addition to his inventions, Unaipon was a talented writer, becoming the first Aboriginal author to be published in English in the early 1920s. He wrote on a range of topics, from Aboriginal legends to campaigns for Aboriginal rights and even philosophical subjects.
As a public speaker and activist, Unaipon promoted Aboriginal culture and rights. His writings and speeches on these topics made him a respected figure and led to a Coronation medal in 1953 and, posthumously, the FAW Patricia Weickhardt Award for Aboriginal writers in 1985.
Unaipon’s life and work left an enduring legacy in Australia, and his image is featured on the Australian $50 note in recognition of his substantial contributions to Australian society. He passed away on February 7, 1967.
Charles Frederick Maynard dedicated his life to advocating for land rights, citizenship, and equal rights for Indigenous people, and is sometimes described as the first Aboriginal activist. He was born in 1879, the third child of Mary Maynard, an Aboriginal woman of Worimi and French descent, and William Maynard, an English labourer. Tragically, his mother passed away during childbirth in 1884, and he and his brother, Arthur, were taken in by a Protestant minister who subjected them to harsh conditions, making them live in a stable and sometimes beating them. Nevertheless, during this period, Maynard learned to read and gained access to the minister’s library.
In his early teens, Maynard and his brother managed to escape the minister’s custody and relocated to their sister’s home in Sydney. His life took various turns, and he engaged in a range of occupations, including photographer, gardener, drover, and bullock driver.
His transformation into a political activist started when he was working as a wharf labourer in Woolloomooloo, Sydney, in 1907. There he was exposed to unionist ideals and encountered workers from the United States and the Caribbean who introduced him to new political ideas, particularly those of Marcus Garvey, leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association.
In 1925, Maynard, along with Tom Lacey, founded the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association (AAPA), which became a platform for advocating Indigenous self-determination and land rights. The AAPA’s efforts included letter-writing campaigns, petitions, and public protests. Maynard’s own experiences of being forcibly separated from his land and family during his youth fuelled his determination to fight for justice.
Despite facing opposition and efforts to discredit him, Maynard and the AAPA made significant strides in raising awareness and challenging the Aboriginal Protection Board’s policies. The association expanded to 13 active branches in New South Wales, with Maynard actively participating in debates and public discussions.
In his later years, Maynard married and focused on providing for his family. Tragically, a wharf accident led to severe injuries, resulting in the amputation of one of his legs. He passed away on September 9, 1946, due to diabetes mellitus. Maynard’s legacy endures not only through his own advocacy but also through his family. His son, Mervyn Maynard, was a renowned jockey, and his grandson, Professor John Maynard, is an academic and historian specialising in Aboriginal history.
Kngwarreye (1910-1996) was a groundbreaking Indigenous Australian artist whose remarkable life and artistic journey left an indelible mark on the world of contemporary art. Hailing from the remote Utopia Homelands in the Northern Territory, Kngwarreye’s artistic career didn’t begin until she was in her late 70s, making her ascent to international acclaim all the more remarkable.
An elder and ancestor of the Anmatyerre people, her artistic expression was deeply rooted in her cultural heritage. Her work was heavily influenced by the Dreaming stories, ancestral connections, and the spiritual traditions of her people. Kngwarreye’s art was a conduit for her to convey the profound spiritual insights and deep connection to the land that were integral to her identity.
Her art was characterised by a unique and innovative approach to abstraction, using bold, expressive brushwork and vibrant, earthy colors.
Her paintings often portrayed markings painting on the sand and body by Anmatyerre ancestors and their experiences within The Dreaming, evoking a sense of the ancient and timeless. They carried a powerful energy that transcended cultural boundaries, resonating with audiences around the world.
Kngwarreye’s artistic journey was meteoric, as she produced an astonishing body of work in a relatively short period. Her paintings are now displayed in major art institutions globally, including the Tate in London, and her impact on the art world continues to reverberate.
In 2017 her painting Earth’s Creation 1 set the record price for an Australian woman artist, when it sold for $2.1 million at auction in Sydney.
For more information on Emily Kame Kngwarreye click here.
Nicky Winmar (AFL player)
Nicky Winmar, a revered figure in Australian Rules Football (AFL) history, is an Indigenous Australian athlete known not only for his exceptional skills on the field but also for his ground-breaking stance against racism. Born on September 25, 1965, in the small Western Australian town of Kellerberrin, Winmar’s journey to AFL stardom was a testament to his unwavering determination and natural talent.
Nicky Winmar’s statue outside Optus Stadium in Perth. Photo: Michael Coghlan/Flickr.
Winmar’s career began in 1987 when he was drafted by the St Kilda Football Club in the Victorian Football League (VFL), now known as the AFL. He quickly established himself as one of the league’s most electrifying players, renowned for his blistering pace, pinpoint kicking, and remarkable ball-handling abilities. He donned the Saints’ jersey for most of his career, amassing over 250 games and earning numerous accolades, including All-Australian selections.
In his career Winmar kicked 451 goals in 382 games playing for South Fremantle, St Kilda and The Western Bulldogs between 1983 and 1999.
However, it was a momentous incident in 1993 that would forever etch Winmar’s name into the annals of Australian sport. During a match against Collingwood, Winmar responded to racial taunts from the crowd by defiantly lifting his jersey and pointing to his chest, proclaiming his pride in his Indigenous heritage. This iconic gesture resonated far beyond the football field, sparking a national conversation about racism in sport and society.
Winmar’s courage and resilience in the face of adversity made him a trailblazer for Indigenous athletes, inspiring change within the AFL and pushing for greater recognition and respect for Indigenous culture within the sport. His legacy extends beyond his playing days, as he continues to be an advocate for Indigenous rights and reconciliation.
Hetti Perkins (Curator)
Hetti Perkins is a prominent Indigenous cultural advocate who has made a lasting impact on the recognition and empowerment of Indigenous communities in Australia. Born on December 25, 1965, in Alice Springs, she hails from the Arrernte and Kalkadoon peoples, giving her a deep connection to the land and a strong sense of responsibility to advocate for Indigenous rights.
She has worked in various roles, including as a curator, cultural adviser, writer and activist, using her platform to amplify Indigenous voices in the art world and beyond. Her career began at the Sydney Gallery of Aboriginal Arts Australian, before she became a curator at the Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative.
Perkins is best known for her work as senior curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales from 1989 to 2011. Her work as a curator has been instrumental in showcasing the richness and diversity of Indigenous art both in Australia and internationally. Her efforts have helped bring Indigenous art to the forefront of the global art scene and contributed to economic opportunities for Indigenous artists.
Beyond her work in the arts, she has been a vocal advocate for Indigenous rights, social justice, and reconciliation. She raises awareness about issues such as land rights, cultural preservation, and the need for greater recognition of Australia’s Indigenous history.
Samantha Harris (Model)
Born on July 20, 1990, in Tweed Heads, New South Wales, Australia, Harris is a proud Dunghutti woman who has transcended boundaries and shattered stereotypes in the world of modelling.
From a young age, her striking features and natural charisma set her on a path to success. Her journey to the top of the fashion industry began when she won the Girlfriend magazine Covergirl competition at the age of 13, which led to a contract with Chic Management. Harris has worked with renowned photographers like Patrick Demarchelier, and graced the pages of Glamour. She became a brand ambassador for Seafolly and appeared in Vogue Australia and Harper’s Bazaar Singapore, breaking barriers as the second Indigenous model to grace the cover of Vogue.
Harris uses her platform to shed light on the struggles faced by Indigenous communities in Australia, advocating for greater representation and respect, and is a role model for young Indigenous people.
She has been a prominent advocate for diversity and inclusion within the fashion industry, challenging industry norms and advocating for equal opportunities for all races and backgrounds. She is also the first female First Nations Goodwill Ambassador for World Vision Australia, supports the Black Lives Matter movement and has advocated for a change in the date of Australia Day.
Vincent Lingiari (Activist)
Vincent Lingiari (1908-1988) was a prominent Australian Aboriginal rights activist and leader, best known for his pivotal role in the Gurindji Strike and the Wave Hill Walk-Off, which marked a significant turning point in the struggle for Indigenous land rights in Australia.
Born in the Northern Territory’s Victoria River region, he worked as a stockman on Wave Hill Station, owned by the British-owned Vestey Group, enduring harsh working conditions and low pay. Lingiari’s experiences, along with the injustices faced by his fellow Gurindji people, fueled his determination to fight for their rights.
In 1966, under Lingiari’s leadership, over 200 Gurindji people who were Wave Hill Station employees staged a historic walk-off with their families at the site, protesting against their deplorable living conditions and demanding the return of their ancestral lands. This event would evolve into an eight-year struggle for land rights and justice.
Lingiari’s commitment and resilience gained national attention, as the Gurindji Strike led to the establishment of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act in 1976, which allowed Indigenous people to apply for Native title of their traditional lands.
Ash Barty (Tennis player)
Ashleigh Jacinta Barty AO, born on April 24, 1996, is a Grand Slam winning tennis player and an accomplished cricketer.
Ash Barty at Wimbledon in 2019. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
Hailing from Ipswich, Queensland, Barty’s journey began as a young child, picking up a tennis racket at the age of four in Brisbane. Her talent quickly became evident as she rose through the junior rankings, securing a career-high ranking of ITF world junior ranking of No. 2.
In her early career, Barty excelled in doubles competition, reaching the finals of multiple Grand Slam tournaments alongside experienced partner Casey Dellacqua. A pivotal moment arrived in 2014 when Barty chose to take a break from tennis and made an unexpected foray into cricket. Despite having no formal training in the sport, she began training with Queensland Fire and played for the Western Suburbs District Cricket Club, a local team that competes in Brisbane’s Women’s Premier Cricket Twenty20 league.
Returning to tennis in 2016, Barty experienced a breakthrough year in 2017, claiming her first WTA singles title and rapidly climbing the rankings to reach No. 17 in the world. A formidable force in both singles and doubles, she secured numerous tournament victories along the way, including three Grand Slam singles titles at the French Open in 2019, Wimbledon Championships in 2021, and the Australian Open in 2022. Additionally, she won the 2018 US Open in doubles alongside CoCo Vandeweghe.
Barty’s contributions extend beyond her individual success. She served as Australia’s Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) No. 1 player for an impressive 121 weeks, becoming only the second Australian woman to achieve this honor. Barty also made notable contributions to the Australian Fed Cup team, leading them to a runner-up finish in 2019. A true ambassador of the sport, she was appointed as the National Indigenous Tennis Ambassador for Tennis Australia, promoting inclusivity and diversity.
Despite her comparatively shorter stature, Barty displayed remarkable skills in serving, consistently ranking among the WTA Tour’s leaders in aces and service point percentages. Her unique style of play, coupled with her dedication and passion for the game, captivated fans worldwide.
In March 2022, two months after capturing her Australian Open title and remaining at the pinnacle of the rankings, Barty announced her retirement from tennis. Her remarkable 114 consecutive weeks as the world No. 1 (excluding the paused rankings during the COVID-19 pandemic) places her fourth on the all-time list.
Pemulwuy, a revered Indigenous leader, was born in the mid 18th century in the region now known as Botany Bay, New South Wales. He emerged as a prominent figure in the Aboriginal resistance against European colonisation, playing a vital role in defending the ancestral lands and culture of the Bidjigal people, of the Eora nation.
Pemulwuy’s early life remains shrouded in mystery, but his determination to protect his people’s way of life from the encroaching British settlers is well-documented. He convinced the Eora, Dharug and Tharawal people to join his campaign of resistance, creating a united front against the colonisers. He employed guerrilla tactics and strategic warfare to disrupt the expansion of the British colony.
Pemulwuy’s legacy is rooted in his unwavering commitment to justice and the preservation of Indigenous traditions. His name is synonymous with courage and resilience as he led countless raids and attacks, often against overwhelming odds.
Despite being seriously wounded from battle in 1795, he evaded capture and continued fighting until 1802 when he was shot dead by explorer and sailor Henry Hacking. His head was cut off and sent to English naturalist Joseph Banks for his collection. Pemulwuy’s legacy lives on as a symbol of Indigenous resistance and the ongoing struggle for Indigenous rights and recognition in Australia.
Chicka Dixon (Activist)
Charles “Chicka” Dixon (5 May 1928 – 10 March 2010) was a prominent Australian Aboriginal activist and leader. His lifelong commitment to this cause made him a pivotal figure in Australian history.
Dixon’s activism began at the age of 18 when he attended his first political meeting in 1946, inspired by the likes of Jack Patten and the Aborigines Progressive Association. During the 1960s, he served as a spokesperson for the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. In 1970, he played a crucial role in establishing Australia’s inaugural Aboriginal Legal Service in Redfern, and in 1972, he co-founded the iconic Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra, raising awareness of Indigenous rights.
Throughout his life, Dixon continued to push for change. He became the first Aboriginal person to serve as a Councillor on the Australia Council and chaired its Aboriginal Arts Board. In 1983, he was honored as the first Aboriginal of the Year. In an effort to spotlight the Aboriginal struggle, he even journeyed to China in 1972, despite difficulties in finding an airline willing to transport him.
Later in life, Dixon faced health challenges due to asbestos exposure from his time as a wharfie on the Sydney docks. His commitment to justice extended beyond his activism, as evidenced by his pursuit of his ASIO file, which he obtained and shared publicly alongside other notable activists.
He passed away in 2010 from asbestosis and is survived by his family, including his two daughters. In 2006, he received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of New South Wales in recognition of his outstanding community service.
Bronwyn Bancroft (Fashion designer/Artist)
Bronwyn Bancroft, born in 1958 in Tenterfield, New South Wales, is a fashion designer, artist artist, administrator, book illustrator and community activist.
Bancroft’s journey began as the youngest of seven children, born to an Aboriginal dad and a mum of Scottish and Polish heritage. Her great-great-great-grandmother’s tragic story, being one of the few survivors after her clan was murdered during land settlement, left a deep impact. Guided by her father’s wisdom, Bancroft pursued an education. After completing high school in Tenterfield, she moved to Canberra in 1976 with her husband, Ned Manning, to study at the Canberra School of Art and later at the University of Sydney.
Bancroft’s career boasts impressive diversity. She co-founded the Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative in 1987 and opened Designer Aboriginals, a shop in Sydney, offering fabrics made by Aboriginal artists, including her own designs. Her remarkable fabric designs were exhibited in Paris at the 1987 Printemps Fashion Parade, alongside other acclaimed designers. Later, she switched her focus from the fashion industry to primarily painting, creating vibrant, stained-glass-like artworks inspired by influences such as Georgia O’Keeffe and Indigenous artists like Emily Kngwarreye.
She has illustrated over 20 children’s books, working with renowned authors like Sally Morgan and Oodgeroo Noonuccal. In 2009, she received the Dromkeen Medal for her exceptional contribution to children’s literature.
In addition to her creative work, Bancroft has been actively involved in arts organisations and advocacy. She has served on the board of the National Gallery of Australia, the Visual Arts Board of the New South Wales Ministry for the Arts, and the National Indigenous Arts Advocacy Organisation. She has also been an advocate for artists’ resale royalty rights.
Bancroft’s impact reaches beyond the arts, with her work highlighting important social issues. Her painting ‘Prevention of AIDS’ was used to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS in Indigenous communities. She has also dedicated herself to mentoring Indigenous students, supporting organisations like the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience.
Her extensive contributions were acknowledged when she became the inaugural recipient of the New South Wales Aboriginal Creative Fellowship in 2021. As of 2023, she continues her involvement in various roles, including serving as a board member of the Australian Society of Authors.
For more information on Bronwyn Bancroft click here.
Tracy Barrell (Paralympian)
Tracy Lee Barrell, born in 1974 in New South Wales, is an inspirational figure in the world of sports and disability advocacy. Despite being born with triple congenital amputations, lacking legs and having only one arm, Barrell defied the odds and became a renowned Paralympic swimmer representing Australia.
Her remarkable journey began at the age of 14 when she joined the NSW Amputee Sporting Association and embarked on her swimming career. Coached by Mick Maroney and later Greg Hodge, she quickly excelled, winning gold medals in swimming and athletics at the NSW State Games and earning recognition as the Athlete of the Games.
In 1992, Barrell participated in the Barcelona Paralympic Games, where she secured two gold medals in the Women’s 4x50m Freestyle S1-6 event and the Women’s 50m Butterfly S3-4 event. Her impressive achievements earned her the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 1993.
Despite facing challenges and injuries, Barrell continued to make her mark beyond the pool. She represented Australia in sitting volleyball in 2008 and became a dedicated advocate for people with disabilities. She served as an ambassador for the “Don’t DIS my ABILITY” program and was appointed as a Living Life My Way Ambassador by the New South Wales Government.
Barrell’s advocacy work extended to indigenous causes as well. She proudly celebrated her indigenous heritage and served as a spokesperson for the First Peoples Disability Network.
Ernie Dingo (Actor)
Ernie Dingo, born on July 31, 1956, in Bullardoo Station, Western Australia, is a prominent Indigenous Australian actor, television presenter, and comedian from the Yamatji people of the Murchison region. He is recognized as an Australian National Living Treasure for his significant contributions to the arts and Indigenous rights.
Growing up in Mullewa, Western Australia, as one of nine siblings, Ernie attended local schools and even pursued an apprenticeship in sign writing. His breakthrough into acting came after moving to Perth and collaborating with Richard Walley to create the first “Welcome to Country” ceremony in 1976. This cultural initiative laid the foundation for broader recognition of Indigenous customs.
Dingo’s film career began in the early 1980s, with notable roles in films like “Tudawali” (1987), “Crocodile Dundee II” (1988), and “Dead Heart” (1996). He also made appearances in various Australian television series, including “Heartland” and “The Great Outdoors,” which he hosted for 16 years.
Dingo’s personal life has been marked by both joys and challenges, including fatherhood, adoption, and his involvement in Australian rules football. He has received numerous awards and honors, such as being named a Member of the Order of Australia in 1990 and winning an AFI Award for his performance in “A Waltz Through the Hills” in 1988.
Ernie Dingo’s career and advocacy work have left an enduring mark on Australian entertainment and Indigenous rights, making him a celebrated figure in his country’s cultural landscape.
Alexander ‘Alec’ Riley was an exceptional Aboriginal tracker regarded as the best in law enforcement in New South Wales. He was born in 1884, in Nymagee, New South Wales, the son of John Riley, a labourer, and Mary Calligan.
Police tracker Alexander Riley.
He worked as a stationhand before joining the New South Wales Police in 1911 as a tracker, stationed in Dubbo. His invaluable tracking skills were soon put to the test when he played a pivotal role in breaking up a cattle-thieving ring in 1913 and assisting in the recapture of two escapees from Dubbo gaol.
Throughout his career, Riley’s incredible tracking abilities led to numerous successes. In one notable instance, he found a lost six-year-old girl in the mountains near Stuart Town on Christmas Eve 1918 after she had been missing for 24 hours.
Riley helped apprehend numerous murderers and thieves. Notably, he contributed to the capture of Roy Governor, the ‘last of the bushrangers,’ in the early 1920s, exposing the clever tactic of disguising tracks with sheepskin tied to his feet.
Riley married Ethel Taylor in 1924 and continued to be a well-known horseman in the Dubbo district, participating in various shows and rodeos. In 1939, he played a vital role in the arrest of Andrew Moss, a reputed serial killer responsible for multiple murders over two decades. His dedication and meticulous investigation led to Moss’s capture and the recovery of stolen property.
On August 5, 1941, Riley became the first Aboriginal person to attain the rank of sergeant in the New South Wales Police Force. In 1943 he received the King’s Police and Fire Services Medal for Distinguished Service.
Riley spent his working life at the Talbragar Aboriginal Reserve, near Dubbo, alongside the Macquarie River. Even after retiring from the police force in 1950, he continued to live on the reserve with his wife. He passed away in 1970, in Dubbo.
In 1996, his grandson, Michael Riley, created a documentary film titled Blacktracker, celebrating Riley’s life.
For more information on Alexander Riley click here.
Mick Miller (Statesman)
Mick Miller (16 January 1937 – 5 April 1998) was a prominent Aboriginal Australian activist and politician dedicated to achieving social justice, land rights, and improved opportunities for Aboriginal Australians in North Queensland and across the country.
Born on Palm Island, Queensland, in 1937, Miller was the eldest of seven siblings. Despite the challenges he faced as a triple congenital amputee, he pursued education at St. Michael’s Catholic School on Palm Island and later completed his secondary schooling at Mt Carmel Boarding College in Charters Towers, becoming one of Queensland’s first fully qualified Aboriginal teachers in 1959.
Miller’s commitment to indigenous rights and social justice led him to join the Aboriginal Advancement League in the 1960s and the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI). He also played a pivotal role in establishing the North Queensland Land Council, advocating for Aboriginal land rights.
Throughout his career, Miller held various leadership positions, serving as the chair of the North Queensland Land Council and as a Board Member of the Aboriginal Arts Board. In 1985, he led a federal government review that resulted in the influential “Miller Report,” a blueprint for Aboriginal employment and training policies.
Miller’s activism often brought him into conflict with authorities, including the Queensland government, as he worked tirelessly to secure basic rights for Aboriginal people, including access to the electoral roll. His work earned him recognition as a respected elder statesman and a national Indigenous leader, known for his sense of humor, optimism, and enduring commitment to the Aboriginal movement.
In 1984, Miller collaborated on the film “Couldn’t Be Fairer,” which exposed the social injustices faced by Aboriginal people and highlighted racist views expressed by politicians and businessmen.
Nova Peris (Athlete/Politician)
Nova Maree Peris OAM, born on February 25, 1971, is a distinguished figure in Australia, celebrated for her achievements in sports and politics. She made history as the first Aboriginal Australian to secure an Olympic gold medal as part of the Australian women’s field hockey team at the 1996 Olympics. Transitioning to sprinting, she clinched double gold at the 1998 Commonwealth Games and participated in the 2000 Olympics.
In 1997, Peris was named Young Australian of the Year. Her athletic journey continued with appearances at the 1999 World Athletics Championships and the Sydney Olympics, reaching the semi-finals and the final respectively.
Beyond her athletic endeavors, Peris made headlines in politics. Handpicked by then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard, she joined the Australian Labor Party and was elected to the Australian Senate in 2013, becoming the first Indigenous woman to serve in federal parliament. In her maiden speech, she acknowledged the apology to the stolen generation.
Peris chose not to seek re-election in 2016. Subsequently, she assumed various roles, including ambassadorship for the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation.
Born in Darwin, Peris’s personal life has seen ups and downs, including marriages, divorces, and tragic losses. She has authored an autobiography and even ventured into reality television. Her son, Jack, has made a name for himself as a footballer for the St. Kilda Football Club.
George Burarrwanga (Singer)
George Rrurrambu Burarrwanga (1957 – June 10, 2007) was a prominent figure in the Aboriginal music scene as the frontman of the Warumpi Band, a pioneering Aboriginal rock band. Born into the Yolngu community in Matamata, he was raised in Galiwinku on Elcho Island. His musical journey began with ancestral songlines passed down by his father, Charlie Matjuwuy Burarrwanga, a revered ceremonial singer.
In the late 1970s, George moved to Yuendumu, where he immersed himself in Walpiri language and culture. There, he joined forces with Sammy Butcher, Gordon Butcher, and Neil Murray to form the Warumpi Band. Their 1983 single Jailanguru Pakarnu made history as the first rock song in an Australian Aboriginal language.
The band released albums like Big Name No Blanket, Go Bush, and Too Much Humbug, featuring hits like Blackfella/Whitefella and My Island Home. George’s performances at major music festivals and his solo reggae album further showcased his musical talents.
Beyond music, George was a passionate advocate for reconciliation and cross-cultural understanding. In later years, he returned to traditional Aboriginal life, participating in cultural ceremonies and advocating for collaboration between Indigenous knowledge and technical expertise.
George’s passing in 2007 marked a loss in the music world, and he was posthumously referred to as George Burarrwanga for cultural reasons. However, in recent times, his original Yolngu name, George Rrurrambu Burarrwanga, has resurfaced, paying tribute to his rich cultural heritage and lasting musical legacy.
Samantha Riley (Swimmer)
Samantha Riley OAM, born on November 13, 1972, is a former Australian competitive swimmer of Aboriginal descent, specializing in breaststroke. She made history as the first Indigenous Australian to win an Olympic medal. Riley’s swimming journey began as a means to combat asthma, and she quickly rose through the ranks, earning a silver medal in the medley relay at the 1991 World Championships.
Riley’s Olympic debut came at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, where she secured a bronze medal in the 100-meter breaststroke and competed in the 200-meter event. In 1994, she dominated the Commonwealth Games and the World Championships, setting a world record in the 100-meter breaststroke and earning recognition as Female World Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World magazine.
However, controversy marred her journey in 1996 when she tested positive for a banned substance due to medication provided by her coach, Scott Volkers. Despite the cloud over her, Riley managed to win a bronze in the 100m breaststroke and a silver in the 4×100-meter relay at the Atlanta Olympics.
Though expectations were high for her at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, a kidney infection disrupted her training, and she retired shortly after. Riley’s personal life has seen engagements to notable figures and a long marriage to former Ironman champion Tim Fydler, with whom she has three children.
Jandamarra, born around 1870 into the Bunuba tribe in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, is remembered as an Aboriginal leader with a complex and dramatic life story. As a youth, he gained skills like horsemanship, sheep shearing, and firearm use while working on a neighboring cattle station. He even spoke English confidently and was nicknamed ‘Pigeon’ due to his small, agile, and endearing personality.
In 1889, Jandamarra was captured by the police, but he later won their trust by caring for their horses. He worked as a stockman, tracker, and even helped locate and capture Bunuba warriors, saving the life of a policeman during an attack.
However, a dramatic turn came when Jandamarra shot and killed Constable Richardson, his close friend, and released Aboriginal prisoners, forming a gang with them. Together, they ambushed settlers and initiated a violent resistance against European invasion. The police were given sweeping powers to quell the uprising, resulting in many Aboriginal deaths.
Jandamarra led a major battle at Windjina Gorge in 1894 but was severely wounded. He continued to evade capture, raiding police stations and humiliating the authorities. His actions were driven by a vision of Aboriginal unity transcending tribal boundaries.
Ultimately, Jandamarra was shot dead by an Aboriginal trooper in 1897. His story represents a complex chapter in Australian history, marked by Indigenous resistance against colonisation. In modern times, his legacy is honored with a heritage trail, and his life has been the subject of literary works like Colin Johnson’s novel, “Long Live Sandawara.”
Linda Burney (Politician)
Linda Jean Burney, born on April 25, 1957, is an Australian politician and a member of the Australian Labor Party, representing the electorate of Barton in the Australian House of Representatives since the 2016 federal election. She is a notable figure for being the first woman who identifies as Aboriginal to hold the position of Minister for Indigenous Australians in the Albanese ministry.
Linda Burney’s political career began in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, where she represented Canterbury for Labor from 2003 to 2016. During her time there, she held various important roles, including Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Education and Aboriginal Affairs. She made history as the first Aboriginal person to serve in the New South Wales Parliament.
In the federal arena, Burney continued to break barriers. In 2016, she became the first Aboriginal woman to be elected to the House of Representatives. She has since held significant positions, including Shadow Minister for Human Services, Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services, and Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians.
In 2022, following the election of a federal Labor government, Burney was appointed Minister for Indigenous Australians. Throughout her career, she has been a tireless advocate for Indigenous communities and has worked on various policy areas, including education and child protection.
Jason Gillespie (Cricketer)
Jason Neil Gillespie, born on April 19, 1975, is an Australian cricket coach and former cricketer known for his achievements in both bowling and batting.
Gillespie had a successful international career, playing in all three formats of the game for Australia. As a right-arm fast bowler, he took 259 wickets in 71 Tests, making him the sixth-highest wicket-taker for Australia. His average bowling figures of 26.13 reflect his consistency and reliability as a support bowler for more renowned teammates like Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. In recognition of his performances in 2004, he was named in the World Test XI and ODI XI by the ICC.
In addition to his bowling, Gillespie displayed his batting prowess on occasion. In a memorable partnership with Glenn McGrath, he scored an unbeaten 201 in his last Test match, a world record for the highest individual score by a night-watchman in international cricket.
Injuries curtailed his international career, but Gillespie remained an accurate and economical bowler. He also faced injury setbacks, including a collision with Steve Waugh during a fielding attempt in Sri Lanka.
Following his playing career, Gillespie transitioned into coaching. He worked in various coaching roles, including stints with teams like Yorkshire, Adelaide Strikers, Papua New Guinea, Sussex, and South Australia.
Les Kennedy (Journalist)
Les Kennedy, was a prominent crime reporter working in newspapers in Sydney. He passed away at the age of 53 after a battle with cancer. Known for his relentless pursuit of stories and deep connections within the police and criminal world, Kennedy remained committed to his profession until the very end. He left the hospital, where he was receiving treatment for cancer, to break a scoop on the Kerry Whelan murder case, highlighting his dedication to journalism.
Throughout his career, Kennedy reported for Fairfax and News Ltd., earning a reputation as one of Sydney’s leading police reporters. He also co-authored books on notorious criminal cases, including Sins of the Brother: The Definitive Story of Ivan Milat and the Backpacker Murders.
Kennedy’s approach to journalism was characterised by building strong relationships with both law enforcement and criminals, allowing him to access exclusive information and stories. He was highly principled and ethical in his reporting, and his dedication to getting an accurate story, no matter the size, was evident.
In 2012, the year after his death, the Kennedy Awards were instituted in his honour and two years later the Kennedy Foundation was created to run them. The awards have grown to become the second biggest journalism prize offered in Australia.
Madeleine Madden (Actress)
Actress Madeleine Madden in Amazon Prime’s Wheel of Time. Photo: Supplied.
Madeleine Madden, born into a family with deep ties to activism and the arts, is an accomplished Australian actress. Growing up in Redfern, a Sydney suburb, she was exposed to a rich cultural and political environment. Her lineage includes Arrernte elder Hetty Perkins as her great-grandmother, and her grandfather, Charles Perkins, was an activist and soccer player. She is the daughter of Lee Madden and renowned art curator and writer Hetti Perkins, with director Rachel Perkins as her aunt.
Madden made history in 2010 when, at the age of 13, she became the first Australian teenager to deliver a national address, discussing the future of Indigenous Australians on television networks that reached 6 million viewers.
Her acting career has flourished, featuring prominent roles in various television series, including Australia’s pioneering Indigenous teen drama “Ready for This” and the critically acclaimed “Redfern Now.” She also appeared in series like “The Moodys,” “Jack Irish,” and “Pine Gap.” Her Hollywood debut came in 2019 with a role in the Nickelodeon film “Dora and the Lost City of Gold.”
With an early start in film acting at just 8 years old, Madden aspires to become a director in the future. Her talent, dedication, and commitment to her Indigenous heritage have made her a rising star in the entertainment industry. She currently stars in the Amazon Prime series Wheel of Time.
Lincoln Crowley (Judge)
The Honourable Justice Lincoln Crowley is a distinguished Australian lawyer and the first Indigenous judge to be appointed to a superior court in Australia. He graduated from James Cook University in 1996 with a Bachelor of Laws and began his legal career as a solicitor advocate with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service in Townsville and later Brisbane. In this role, he represented Indigenous people charged with criminal offenses.
Justice Crowley later worked in the New South Wales Crown Solicitor’s Office, handling civil litigation cases on behalf of government departments and agencies. He then transitioned to private practice, where he specialized in various civil and criminal areas, including disciplinary proceedings, personal injuries, and criminal defense.
In 2010, he returned to Queensland and practiced as a barrister, focusing on criminal trials and appeals. His work encompassed a wide range of serious and complex cases, including murder, corporate fraud, and terrorism-related matters.
In 2018, Justice Crowley made history by becoming the first Indigenous person appointed as Queen’s Counsel in Queensland. He further contributed to the legal profession by serving as Senior Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation of People with Disability.
On June 13, 2022, he was sworn in as a judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland, marking a significant milestone as the first Indigenous judge in a superior court in Australia.
For more information on Lincoln Crowley click here.
Patrick Johnson (Sprinter)
Born in 1972, in Cairns, Queensland, Patrick Johnson is Australia’s fastest sprinter and was the first non-African descent sprinter to run under 10 seconds in the 100 meters.
Of Aboriginal and Irish heritage, Johnson grew up on his father’s mackerel trawler after the death of his mother when he was a boy, and didn’t get into athletics until he was an adult.
He broke the 10-second barrier for the 100 meters in 2003, setting a new Oceania and Australian record with a time of 9.93 seconds in Mito, Japan. The time still stands as the fastest by an Australian, and makes Johnson the 17th fastest runner in history. He is the only Australian to ever run under 10 seconds in the 100 metres in official time.
Johnson represented Australia at multiple Olympic Games, including in 2000 and 2004, as well as at various Commonwealth Games in 2002, 2006, and 2010.
Beyond athletics, Johnson has contributed significantly to various fields. He spent a decade working in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and has dedicated over 20 years to advocating for equal rights, particularly in the areas of health, education, and well-being for all Australians. His commitment to improving Indigenous health led him to serve as the Indigenous Leadership project officer at the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT (AMSANT), where he supported and nurtured leaders in community-controlled health services.
For more information on Patrick Johnson click here.
Sally Morgan (Author)
Sally Morgan is an author and dramatist who was born in Perth in 1951. Her mother was a Bailgu woman of the Pilbara region in Western Australia, however Morgan’s Indigenous heritage was kept a secret until she was 15.
In 1982, Morgan travelled to her grandmother’s birthplace, and began a spiritual journey learning about her identity and culture. This trip resulted in the 1987 autobiographical book My Place, an exploration of Morgan’s heritage and the impact of having her Indigenous identity concealed for the first 15 years of her life.
Morgan went on to publish five other books, all which tell the quest for knowledge and belonging and give voice to her Aboriginal ancestors. The books were an important milestone in Australian literature as they examine the effect of the stolen generations, dispossession, and cultural genocide.
She has also written children’s books which tell Dreamtime stories and share a range of Indigenous experiences from across the country, breaking cycles of silence through education and sharing.
My Place won Morgan the 1990 Order of Australia Book Prize, and in 1987 she won the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission humanitarian award in 1987. Her novels continue to teach Australians about Indigenous experiences and the stigma which exists in Australian society.
Bennelong (Eora representative)
Woollarawarre Bennelong, also known as Baneelon, was a prominent figure among the Eora people, the indigenous population of the Port Jackson area in Australia, during the time of the British settlement in 1788. He played a significant role as a mediator between the Eora and the British, both in New South Wales and in the United Kingdom.
Bennelong belonged to the Wangal clan and had strong connections with other nearby clans through the marriages of his sisters. He had several names given to him throughout his life, and he inherited the island of Memel in Port Jackson from his father.
In November 1789, Bennelong, along with another Indigenous man named Colebee, was captured by order of Governor Arthur Phillip, who sought to establish relationships with the Aboriginal populations. Despite Colebee escaping, Bennelong remained in the settlement for a few months before returning to the bush. He later reestablished his relationship with the British colonists.
In 1792, Bennelong and another Aboriginal man named Yemmerrawanne traveled to England with Governor Phillip. There is debate over whether they were presented to King George III, but they did engage in various activities in London before their return to Sydney in 1795.
Bennelong’s relationship with the colonists fluctuated, and he often preferred living in the bush rather than rejoining colonial society. He participated in cultural ceremonies and battles, remaining a respected figure among his people and leading a clan of around 100 individuals on the north side of the Parramatta River.
Bennelong died on January 3, 1813, and was buried in an orchard near the Parramatta Road. His death notice in the Sydney Gazette dismissed his status as an ambassador, reflecting the deteriorating relations between the Indigenous people and colonists. His burial was marked with a traditional battle, and his grave site was later located in present-day Putney, New South Wales.
Neville Bonner (Politician)
Neville Thomas Bonner AO (28 March 1922 – 5 February 1999) was a significant figure in Australian politics. He was the first Aboriginal Australian to become a member of the Parliament of Australia and made notable contributions during his time in office.
Born on Ukerebagh Island near the NSW-Queensland border, Bonner was the son of an Indigenous Australian mother and an English immigrant father. His grandmother, who belonged to the Ugarapul people, played a crucial role in raising him after his mother’s death. Bonner faced a challenging upbringing, witnessing violence and growing up in poverty.
Bonner began his political journey when he joined the One People of Australia League (OPAL), a moderate Indigenous rights organization. In 1971, he filled a casual vacancy in the Senate, making history as the first Indigenous Australian to sit in the Australian Parliament. He went on to be elected in his own right in subsequent elections.
While serving in the Senate, Bonner was known for his independent stance and occasionally defying the Liberal Party line on certain issues. His political career ended in 1983 after he was dropped from the Liberal Senate ticket, but the Hawke government appointed him to the board of directors of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Throughout his life, Bonner received recognition for his achievements. He was named Australian of the Year in 1979 and awarded the Order of Australia in 1984. Following his death, several posthumous honors were bestowed upon him, including the establishment of the Neville Bonner Memorial Scholarship for Indigenous Australians.
Beyond politics, Bonner was known for his expertise in boomerang making. He founded the company Bonnerang in 1966 but faced challenges due to a shortage of wood. He advocated for the intellectual property of boomerangs to be preserved for Indigenous people.
Djambawa Marawili AM (Artist/Activist)
Djambawa Marawili (born 1953) is the ceremonial leader of the Maḏarrpa Clan at Baniyala in East Arnhem Land.
His father, Wakuthi Marawili, named him Djambawa, which means “the source of the fire on the rock in the sea”, and was a crucial mentor, teaching him to sing and instilling in him knowledge about the land and country.
Marawili’s mother, Mulkun Wirrpanda, was an esteemed leader in the Yolngu community due to her extensive knowledge of the Dhuji-Djapu clan. She was not only a leader but also an accomplished artist, working on various mediums like bark, memorial poles, didgeridoos, and displaying her talents in exhibitions across Australia and Asia.
Marawili achieved mainstream success by winning the 1996 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art award Best Bark Painting Prize for his work ‘Maḏarrpa Miny’tji’, meaning Maḏarrpa designs. Marawili describes these designs being placed in country by ancestors, and then passed down by his parents and grandparents. Marawili’s mother and father, Mulkun and Wakuthi Marawili, were experienced artists who taught him ancestral knowledge by painting.
Marawili is the sole surviving creator of the 1988 Barunga Statement which was presented to then Prime Minister Bob Hawke to request recognition of of Indigenous rights. This led to Hawke pledging a treaty, the creation of the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody (1989) and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) in 1990.
In the lead up to the 2008 Sea Rights decision, Marawili led 46 other Yolngu artists from around Blue Mud Bay to produce The Saltwater Collection. These 80 bark paintings outline Yolngu laws and ontology, and were vital evidence of the past and ongoing connection of Yolngu to sea. The High Court Ruling granted Yolngu exclusive access to the sea between the high and low water marks.
Marawili’s art is displayed in state art galleries across the country, as well as in internationally. His role educating and advocating through art was recognised in his appointment to Chairperson of Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre (1994-2000), Chairperson of the Arnhem, Northern and Kimberley Artists Corporation (1998-present), executive of the Northern Land Council, Chairperson of Laynhapuy Homelands Committee, and his appointment to the Prime Ministers Indigenous Advisory Council in 2014.
Marawili is married to Liawaday Wirrpanda, who is also an artist.
Jessica Mauboy (born 1989) is of Kuku Yalanji and Indonesian heritage, and was brought up in Darwin in a music-loving family. She went on to become an internationally-recognised singer, songwriter and actor, and an inspiration to young Indigenous people aspiring to be successful in creative industries.
Her talents were first revealed in 2004 when, at age 14, Mauboy won the Telstra Road to Tamworth Competition at the Tamworth Country Music Festival, and travelled to Sydney to perform. She scored a recording deal with Sony Music Australia, and then progressed to the 2006 Australian Idol semi finals and a 2007 debut album – a mix of R&B, dance music, and pop which has earned her a respected place in the Australian music scene.
Mauboy ventured into film in 2010 with a starring role in Bran Nue Dae, and then in The Sapphires in 2012. Her role in The Sapphires won Best Supporting Actress at the 2013 ACTAAs. These films both tell stories of Indigenous peoples in Australia, exploring mistreatment, belonging, and strength. She went on to play the lead in the TV Series The Secret Daughter, releasing two soundtrack albums for the series which made her the first Indigenous artist with a number-one album on the ARIA Albums Chart. She has since been nominated 28 times for the ARIA awards, with two wins. Mauboy has become an Australian music and film icon to the extent where she was selected to compete for Australia at the 2018 Eurovision Contest.
For more information on Jessica Mauboy click here.
Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Poet)
The poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal, formerly known as Kath Walker (1920-1993), was an influential Australian figure gifted in diverse areas: a poet, black rights activist, educator, and environmentalist. She was born Kathleen Jean Mary Ruska on November 3, 1920, in Bulimba, Brisbane, as the second youngest of seven children to Edward Ruska and Lucy McCullough. Raised on North Stradbroke Island, she left school at 13 due to financial difficulties and moved to Brisbane, commencing domestic work.
During World War II, she enlisted in the Australian Women’s Army Service, also indulged in sports, and married Bruce Walker, a childhood friend. Post-war, she juggled various jobs while raising two sons as a single parent. Walker’s interest in the arts was encouraged by her employers, the Cilentos.
Having joined the Brisbane Realist Writers Group, Walker published “We Are Going” in 1964, the first poetry book by an Aboriginal Australian. Despite criticism, her works gained recognition and popularity. A passionate advocate for Aboriginal rights, she served in political positions such as the Queensland State Secretary of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. She also campaigned internationally for racial equality.
In 1971, she returned to her childhood home, establishing a cultural teaching facility, Moongalba. Walker published two children’s books and resumed poetry writing during an Australia-China Council cultural delegation. She garnered more acclaim, including honorary doctorates from several universities. Also a dedicated environmental activist, she voiced against uranium and sand mining. In 1987, she discarded her MBE in protest of Australia Day’s bicentennial celebration.
In 1988, she adopted her Noonuccal name, Oodgeroo (paperbark tree). She continued to contribute to Indigenous literature and education until her death from cancer on September 16, 1993. Oodgeroo leaves a profound legacy, teaching her ancestors’ spirituality, responsibility for the earth, and human interconnectedness, inspiring many through her life, struggles, and literary works.
Kevin Gilbert (Writer)
Kevin John Gilbert (1933-1993) was an esteemed member of the Wiradjuri Nation, known for his multifaceted talent as a human rights defender, poet, playwright, and artist. Born on 10 July 1933, he grew up with a deep connection to his mother’s Country. Following family tragedy and difficult teenage years, Gilbert became a station manager on local landholdings and later married Goma Scott at Condobolin Court House in 1954.
At twenty-four, Gilbert was sentenced to life imprisonment for his first wife’s murder, marking a daunting 14 years in New South Wales’ most notorious prisons. While incarcerated, he self-educated and developed his artistic abilities which were later exhibited in the Arts Council Gallery, Sydney. He also penned an anthology of poetry, “End of Dream-Time.” Gilbert’s groundbreaking play, “The Cherry Pickers,” highlighted the richness of Aboriginal life despite adversity.
Set free in 1971, Gilbert married Cora Walther and established the Kalari Aboriginal Art Gallery to foster community artistry. He played a part in the establishment of the Aboriginal Embassy in Canberra in 1972 and used his writing to articulate issues of Aboriginal rights and freedom, producing seminal works like “Because A White Man’ll Never Do It” (1973) and “Living Black” (1977).
Gilbert’s relentless pursuit of Aboriginal sovereignty recognition led him to set up the Treaty ’88 Committee, endeavoring to reinforce Aboriginal rights. In 1992, he highlighted frontier wars and massacres through a peaceful protest in Canberra. Leaving behind an enduring legacy, Gilbert died from emphysema on April 1, 1993. His artistic and literary contributions earned him posthumous recognition, inspiring countless individuals beyond his lifetime.
Faith Bandler (Activist)
Faith Bandler (1918-2015), born in Tumbulgum in Northern NSW, was an advocate for Indigenous Australian and South Sea Islander people.
She played a major role in activism which led to the 1967 Referendum. This Referendum led to recognition of Indigenous people in the National Census, and the removal of discriminatory language from the Australian Constitution.
Bandler’s civil rights activism was inspired by her heritage, as her father was a South Sea Islander and a victim of blackbirding – the practice of forcibly taking people from islands in the Pacific to work in Australian fields and plantations as slaves.
After moving to the Sydney suburb of Kings Cross, Bandler’s activism grew as she became involved in left-wing circles. In 1956, Bandler helped form the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship (AAF), alongside the prominent Aboriginal activist Pearl Gibbs.
The AAF was a leading force behind the Referendum, with Bandler delivering many speeches to call Australians to recognise the injustices faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
In the 1970s, Bandler visited Vanuatu to meet her relatives and document the exploitation Australia was subjecting them to.
On return from this trip, she helped to form the Australian South Sea Islanders United Council in 1974, aiming to advance culture and education and reduce inequality for South Sea people in Australia.
In 1976 she was awarded a Member of the Order of the British Empire, however she rejected the offer to protest PM Gough Whitlam’s dismissal.
Bandler was awarded the Human Rights Medal in 1997, was made a Companion of the Order of Australia in 2009, and was named a national living treasure for her persistent pursuit of justice and equality for Indigenous Australian and South Sea Island people.
Tanya Orman (TV executive)
Tanya Denning-Orman, a distinguished Birri and Guugu Yimidhirr woman hailing from Central and North Queensland, has made an indelible mark on the Australian media landscape. With over two decades of experience, Tanya has been at the forefront of media and played a pivotal role in shaping Indigenous storytelling and representation in the country.
Born in North Queensland, Tanya’s early years were marked by her family’s removal from their traditional lands under the Aboriginal Protection Act. Raised on Kanalu country in Central Queensland, she grew up in a multicultural environment due to her mother’s marriage to a British immigrant, exposing her to diverse international perspectives. This upbringing instilled in her a passion for storytelling and the empowerment of those whose voices often go unheard.
After graduating, Tanya embarked on her career, working as a journalist and producer for media outlets such as the ABC and SBS. She dedicated herself to bringing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stories to mainstream audiences, earning accolades like the National Drug and Alcohol Award for Excellence in Media Reporting for her impactful series on Foetal Alcohol Syndrome.
In 2007, Tanya’s journey took a significant turn when she was invited to become one of the first Commissioning Editors for the newly established National Indigenous Television Ltd (NITV), a narrowcaster dedicated to Indigenous content. Four years later, she assumed the role of NITV’s Channel Manager, leading the organisation’s transition into the SBS network and its relaunch as a free-to-air channel.
As one of the youngest television executives in Australia and one of the few Aboriginal women in leadership roles within the media industry, she was recognised by CQUniversity when she was awarded the 2018 Alumnus of the Year – Industry Excellence Award.
Arthur Henry “Artie” Beetson OAM (1945–2011) was a legendary Australian rugby league player and coach who left an indelible mark on the sport. Born in Roma, Queensland, Beetson was not only a formidable prop forward but also a trailblazer in the game. He represented Australia, New South Wales, and Queensland between 1964 and 1981.
Beetson’s impact on the rugby league was profound. He became the first Indigenous Australian to captain Australia in any sport, breaking barriers and inspiring future generations. Known for his remarkable size, speed, and ball-handling skills, Beetson revolutionized the role of front-rowers in the sport, showcasing a unique off-loading and attacking style.
Throughout his playing career, which spanned various clubs including Redcliffe, Balmain, Eastern Suburbs, and Parramatta, Beetson earned numerous accolades. He captained Eastern Suburbs to back-to-back premierships in 1974 and 1975 and was named Rugby League Week’s player of the year in 1974.
After retiring from playing, Beetson transitioned into coaching, making significant contributions to teams like Queensland, Eastern Suburbs, and the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks. His coaching career was marked by success, and he was named Coach of the Year in 1987.
Beetson’s legacy extends beyond the field and coaching arena. He received various awards and honors, including induction into the Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame and being named in multiple teams of the century. Additionally, he championed education and Indigenous empowerment, with the ARTIE Academy established in his honor.
Arthur Beetson passed away in 2011 from a heart attack while cycling on the Gold Coast, leaving behind a lasting legacy as one of Australia’s greatest rugby league icons.
Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri (Painter)
Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri (1932 – 21 June 2002) was a celebrated Australian Aboriginal artist known for his pioneering contributions to the Western Desert Art Movement. Born to Tjatjiti Tjungurrayai and Long Rose Nangala, he hailed from the Anmatyerre culture-linguistic group near the Alherramp (Laramba) community.
Warlugulong by Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri.
Tjapaltjarri’s artistic journey began with wood carving, but it was his transition to painting, particularly the “dot art” style, that would cement his legacy. In the early 1970s, he, along with other Indigenous artists in Papunya, Northern Territory, collaborated with Geoffrey Bardon to immortalize their dreaming stories on canvas, ushering in the Western Desert Art Movement. Tjapaltjarri quickly emerged as a leading figure in this movement, creating intricate and monumental paintings.
His groundbreaking career garnered international recognition, bridging the gap between Indigenous and contemporary Australian art, much like Albert Namatjira before him.
Tjapaltjarri’s passing in 2002 coincided with his scheduled investiture with the Order of Australia for his contributions to art and the Indigenous community. His two daughters, Gabriella Possum Nungurayyi and Michelle Possum Nungurayyi, are also renowned artists.
Posthumously, Tjapaltjarri’s works gained increasing attention. His masterpiece, “Warlugulong,” originally acquired by the Commonwealth Bank for $1,200, made art history when it was auctioned by Sotheby’s in 2007. It was expected to become the most expensive Aboriginal canvas at auction, ultimately selling for $2.4 million. The National Gallery of Australia acquired it, preserving this significant piece of indigenous art.
Despite legal controversies surrounding his burial, Tjapaltjarri’s artistic legacy continues to inspire and captivate art enthusiasts worldwide, cementing his status as one of Australia’s most celebrated Aboriginal artists.
William Cooper (Union leader)
William Cooper (1860/61 – 1941) was an Aboriginal Australian political activist and community leader, renowned for his pioneering efforts in advocating for Aboriginal rights and land rights. Born in Yorta Yorta territory in Victoria, he grew up in challenging circumstances, working for various pastoral employers as a child.
Cooper’s journey toward activism began when he arrived at the Maloga Aboriginal mission, where he demonstrated a remarkable aptitude for learning. Although he had limited formal education, Cooper’s exposure to the teachings of Daniel Matthews and the Bible profoundly influenced his activism. He later supported the Maloga Petition in 1887, which advocated for land rights for local Aboriginal people.
For most of his life, Cooper worked in various labor roles across Australia, but it was in Melbourne in the 1930s that he emerged as a prominent activist. In 1933, he co-founded the Australian Aborigines League, which aimed to secure representation in Parliament, enfranchisement, and land rights for all Aboriginal people.
Despite facing government obstruction, Cooper tirelessly collected signatures for a petition to King George V. Although the petition was ultimately not submitted to the King, his efforts laid the foundation for future advocacy.
Cooper is best known for organizing the Day of Mourning in 1938 on Australia Day, which marked the first combined interstate protest by Aboriginal Australians and aimed to raise awareness of their plight. He continued his activism until his death in 1941.
In recent years, Cooper’s legacy has been celebrated, particularly for his protest against the persecution of Jews during Kristallnacht in 1938. His activism and dedication to indigenous rights continue to inspire generations of activists, and various honors and memorials have been established in his name, including the renaming of a federal division in his honor in 2018.
For more information on William Cooper click here.
Marcia Ella-Duncan (Netballer)
Marcia Lynne Ella-Duncan OAM, born in 1963 in La Perouse, Sydney, is a trailblazing former Australian netball player and an advocate for Indigenous Australian issues. She is a proud descendant of the Yuin nation and hails from a remarkable sporting family, with three brothers, Mark, Glenn, and Gary, representing the Wallabies in rugby.
Ella-Duncan attended schools in La Perouse and Matraville, where her netball journey began. She rose through the ranks, representing New South Wales (NSW) at various levels, including the NSW 16 Schoolgirls and NSW U21 teams. She initially played as a goal defense but transitioned to a center position.
In 1983, Ella-Duncan achieved a significant milestone by securing a netball scholarship at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). This achievement marked her as the first Indigenous Australian to earn an AIS scholarship, reflecting her exceptional talent and dedication to the sport.
Her international career reached new heights in 1986 when she became the first Indigenous player to represent the Australian Diamonds, competing against the Silver Ferns in Christchurch. Ella-Duncan’s impressive contributions continued, and she played a pivotal role in the Australian Diamonds’ success, including winning a silver medal at the 1987 Netball World Cup in Glasgow, Scotland. In total, she represented the Australian Diamonds 18 times.
Ella-Duncan’s commitment to netball and her groundbreaking achievements paved the way for future Indigenous netballers. After retiring from the sport at 26 to start a family with rugby league player Phil Duncan, she channeled her passion and energy into advocating for Indigenous Australian issues, including criminal justice, family and child well-being, community development, and land management. Her legacy extends beyond the netball court, making her a respected figure in both the sporting and Indigenous communities.
Cathy Freeman (Athlete)
Cathy Freeman, born Catherine Astrid Salome Freeman on February 16, 1973, in Mackay, Queensland, Australia, is an iconic Australian sprinter celebrated for her achievements in the 400-meter dash and her historic win at the 2000 Olympics, where she became the first Australian Aboriginal person to secure an individual Olympic gold medal.
Freeman’s journey into competitive running began on the advice of her stepfather. At just 17, she claimed a gold medal at the 1990 Commonwealth Games as a member of the 4 × 100-meter relay team and was honored as Young Australian of the Year. In 1992, she made history as the first Australian Aboriginal person to participate in the Olympics.
Although Freeman didn’t clinch a medal at the 1992 Barcelona Games, her presence continued to rise, drawing attention to the struggles faced by Aboriginal people who had long endured discrimination. In 1994, she achieved victory with gold medals in both the 400-meter and 200-meter races, setting a national record in the 200 meters.
Cathy Freeman after her 400m win at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Photo: Wikimedia.
Throughout 1995, Freeman’s remarkable wins, including a rare victory over her rival Marie-José Pérec of France, propelled her to the world number two ranking in the 400 meters. The following year, she became the first Australian woman to break the 50-second barrier in the 400 meters, accomplishing this feat seven times in race finals.
One of the most memorable moments in her career came during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics when Freeman and Pérec engaged in a thrilling 400-meter showdown, with Pérec ultimately securing the gold and Freeman a silver. Despite this loss, Freeman ended the 1996 season with numerous Grand Prix victories at 400 meters. In 1997, she reclaimed her number one world ranking by clocking 49.39 seconds in the 400 meters at Oslo.
Freeman’s popularity extended beyond the track, earning her the prestigious Australian of the Year award in 1998. In 2000, she illuminated the Olympic flame during the Sydney Olympics’ opening ceremony, a symbolic gesture in the pursuit of Aboriginal reconciliation. At the same Games, Freeman triumphed in the 400 meters, carrying both the Australian national flag and the Aboriginal flag during her victory lap.
After her Olympic success, Freeman continued to excel in 400-meter events, winning several Grand Prix titles in 2000. Although she did not compete in 2001, she contributed to the 4 × 400-meter relay team’s gold medal victory at the 2002 Commonwealth Games. She retired from professional competition in 2003.
In 2007, Cathy Freeman established the Catherine Freeman Foundation, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to supporting Indigenous children in Australia, leaving a lasting legacy of both athletic and humanitarian achievements.
Truganini, also known as Lallah Rookh, was a remarkable Aboriginal Tasmanian woman born around 1812 on Bruny Island, which lies south of the Van Diemen’s Land capital, Hobart. Her early life was steeped in the traditions of her people, the Bruny Island Nuennonne, who practiced their rich culture until European settlement disrupted their way of life.
Tasmanian elder Trugannini.
The arrival of Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur in 1824 marked a turning point for Truganini and her people. The conflict between settlers and Aboriginal communities prompted Arthur to implement policies that included offering bounties for the capture of Aboriginal individuals. Truganini faced immense tragedy during this time, with the loss of family members and the brutal murder of her fiancé by timber-cutters.
In 1829, Truganini’s life took a new direction when she met George Augustus Robinson, the Chief Protector of Aborigines. She and her husband, Woorrady, were relocated to Flinders Island along with the last surviving Tasmanian Aboriginal people, with the intent of “saving” them. However, many succumbed to diseases, and the mission proved unsuccessful.
In 1838, Truganini joined Robinson in establishing a settlement for mainland Aboriginal people at Port Phillip. Her life took another dramatic turn when she severed ties with Robinson and became an outlaw with a group that included Tunnerminnerwait. They engaged in robberies and confrontations with settlers, leading to legal trouble and the execution of two members of the group.
Later, Truganini and other survivors were moved to Oyster Cove, south of Hobart. By 1861, only fourteen survivors remained, marking a tragic decline in their numbers.
Truganini passed away in May 1876, expressing her desire for a respectful burial and the scattering of her ashes in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel. Unfortunately, her remains were exhumed and displayed in museums until 1976 when they were finally cremated and scattered as per her wishes.
Truganini’s legacy as “the last of her people” has overshadowed her significant contributions to Australian history during her lifetime. She witnessed and endured immense cultural upheaval, making her a profoundly important figure in the nation’s history.
David Gulpilil, born David Dhalatnghu Gulpilil, was an iconic actor and dancer known for his profound contributions to Australian cinema and his rich cultural heritage. Born around 1953 in Arnhem Land, he was a member of the Mandjalpingu clan of the Yolngu people.
Gulpilil’s early life was steeped in the traditional lifestyle of his people, living off the land and practicing tribal customs. His remarkable skills as a dancer and hunter caught the attention of British filmmaker Nicolas Roeg, who cast him in the groundbreaking film “Walkabout” (1971). This marked a pivotal moment in Australian cinema as it was the first time an Aboriginal character was portrayed by an Aboriginal actor and as sexually attractive.
His magnetic on-screen presence and talent led him to become a national and international celebrity. Gulpilil’s career continued to flourish with roles in films like “Storm Boy” (1976) and “The Last Wave” (1977), where he dominated the screen with his performances.
Beyond acting, Gulpilil was an accomplished dancer, musician, and storyteller. He organized dance troupes and performed at festivals, winning the Darwin Australia Day Eisteddfod dance competition four times. He also made significant contributions to the preservation of Indigenous culture, initiating and narrating the film “Ten Canoes,” which showcased Aboriginal actors speaking their local language.
In addition to his contributions to film and dance, Gulpilil was a gifted writer and artist, sharing Yolngu stories and beliefs through children’s books and paintings.
Throughout his illustrious career, he received numerous accolades, including AACTA Awards for Best Actor, the Red Ochre Award for lifetime achievement, and the prestigious Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his role in “Charlie’s Country” (2014).
In 2019, Gulpilil retired from acting due to a battle with terminal lung cancer. He passed away at his home in Murray Bridge, South Australia, on 29 November 2021.
For more information on David Gulpilil click here.
Noel Pearson (Lawyer)
Noel Pearson, born on 25 June 1965, is a prominent Australian lawyer and a leading advocate for the rights of Indigenous Australians, particularly in the Cape York Peninsula region of Queensland. He has made significant contributions to Indigenous policy, land rights, education, and social development.
Pearson’s journey began in Cooktown, Queensland, and he grew up in Hope Vale, a Lutheran Mission in Cape York Peninsula. His heritage includes the Bagaarrmugu and Guggu Yalanji peoples. After attending primary school in Hope Vale, Pearson became a boarder at St Peters Lutheran College in Brisbane, where he pursued his education.
In 1990, Pearson co-founded the Cape York Land Council and played a pivotal role in negotiations following the landmark Mabo decision, which led to the Native Title Act 1993. He has been a strong advocate for Indigenous land rights throughout his career.
As the Director of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership from 2004, Pearson expanded his focus beyond land rights to address broader issues affecting Indigenous communities. He advocated for welfare reform, substance abuse prevention, child protection, and economic development. Pearson coined the term “radical centrism” in the early 2000s to describe his alternative approach to Indigenous policy that sought practical solutions and self-reliance.
Pearson’s advocacy also extended to constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians. He called for constitutional amendments, including a preamble recognizing Indigenous peoples and a new head of power. He strongly criticized political leaders for not following through on their commitments to reconciliation and constitutional recognition.
One of Pearson’s notable contributions was his involvement in the Northern Territory intervention, where he argued for measures to address child sexual abuse and welfare dependency in Aboriginal communities. His stance generated both support and opposition within Indigenous communities and the broader Australian public.
In recent years, Pearson continued to champion the cause of constitutional recognition and advocated for the “Indigenous Voice to Parliament” as a means of empowering Indigenous Australians and ensuring their voices are heard at the national level.
Despite being involved in several controversies and debates, Noel Pearson remains a prominent figure in Australian Indigenous affairs, committed to improving the lives and opportunities of Indigenous Australians. His work has left a lasting impact on the nation’s policies, rights, and ongoing discussions about reconciliation and justice.
Lydia Grace Yilkari Williams, born on May 13, 1988, in Katanning, Western Australia, is a prominent Australian professional soccer player, primarily known for her long stint as goalkeeper for the Matildas. Williams has left an indelible mark on the world of women’s soccer through her remarkable career.
Growing up in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, with her Aboriginal father and American mother, Williams had a unique upbringing. She honed her soccer skills by playing for junior teams like Tuggeranong and Woden before joining the Australian Institute of Sport Football Program.
Her club career took off when she joined the Australian W-League team Canberra United in 2008. During her time there, Williams established herself as a top-notch goalkeeper and made significant contributions to the team’s success.
In 2014, Williams ventured into the United States’ National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), playing for the Western New York Flash. Despite facing a season-ending ACL injury, she showcased her goalkeeping prowess. She later played for the Houston Dash in the NWSL.
In the 2016–17 season, Williams joined Melbourne City on loan and helped the team secure a Grand Final victory, earning her the Goalkeeper of the Year award. She then continued her NWSL journey with Reign FC and later returned to Melbourne City for the 2017–18 W-League season, contributing to their championship victory.
Williams further expanded her horizons by signing with Arsenal in England’s FA Women’s Super League (WSL) in 2020, marking a significant step in her career.
Her international career with the Australian national team, known as the Matildas, has been equally impressive. Williams has represented her country in multiple FIFA Women’s World Cup tournaments and the Olympic Games, earning her 100th cap in 2022.
Beyond her soccer achievements, Lydia Williams authored a children’s book in 2019 titled “Saved!!!,” drawing on her life experiences and serving as an inspiration to young readers.
For more information on Lydia Williams click here.
Mark Olive (Chef)
Mark Olive, born in 1962 and affectionately known as the Black Olive, is an eminent chef renowned for his innovative culinary creations and charismatic approach to food. Hailing from Wollongong, he proudly identifies as a Bundjalung man with deep connections to his Aboriginal heritage.
Mark’s culinary journey began by watching his mother and aunts prepare meals, sparking his passion for cooking. He embarked on formal training under the mentorship of a European chef, before starting a cooking segment on ABC’s Message Stick TV series. He later starred in his own cooking show, The Outback Cafe, which inspired a cookbook of the same name. In 2006, his achievements in entertainment earned him the prestigious Deadly Award.
Olive’s influence on Australian cuisine extends beyond television. He has hosted the popular reality cooking show The Chefs’ Line alongside Chef Dan Hong and food writer Melissa Leong, contributing to the celebration of diverse culinary traditions. He’s also co-hosted the On Country Kitchen series and frequently joined Adam Liaw on The Cook Up.
As a Bundjalung man, Olive’s commitment to infusing contemporary cooking with Indigenous flavors has garnered international recognition. He has cooked at corporate, public, and cultural events globally, including hosting a special cooking demonstration for Oprah Winfrey during her visit to Australia.
Windradyne, also known as ‘Saturday,’ was a courageous Aboriginal resistance leader, born around 1800, hailing from the northern Wiradjuri people in the upper Macquarie River region of central-western New South Wales, Australia. His legacy is intricately tied to a tumultuous period of history known as the ‘Bathurst Wars.’
A Wiradjuri warrior thouht to be Windradyne.
In December 1823, Windradyne played a pivotal role in a series of confrontations between Indigenous Australians and settlers, which resulted in the tragic deaths of two convict stockmen at Kings Plains. He was subsequently arrested and imprisoned in Bathurst for a month, a task that required six men and a severe beating to apprehend him.
The conflict escalated, with some of the most violent frontier incidents of the era, including the killing of seven stockmen and retaliatory attacks on Aboriginal women and children. In response, Governor Brisbane declared martial law in the western district in August 1824, increasing the military presence and allowing magistrates to administer summary justice. Windradyne was linked to the murders, and a substantial reward was offered for his capture.
Eventually, the crisis subsided, and Windradyne and his people crossed the mountains to Parramatta, where he was officially pardoned by Governor Brisbane. Described by the Sydney Gazette as a remarkable figure—stout, muscular, with piercing eyes—Windradyne was known for his sobriety, strong family bonds, and leadership.
He continued to be associated with settlers who advocated for Aboriginal rights, including the Suttor family. Windradyne passed away on March 21, 1829, in Bathurst hospital after a tribal conflict. His memory has endured, transforming him into a symbol of Indigenous resistance and reconciliation. Monuments, place names, and commemorations serve as a testament to his legacy, immortalizing the legacy of a man who transitioned from being a ‘terror’ to a ‘friend’ to settlers in the complex history of colonial Australia.
Lillian Crombie, born in 1958, is a highly regarded Aboriginal Australian actress and dancer whose career has spanned the realms of stage, film, and television.
Lillian’s early life was marked by the separation from her parents at the tender age of seven, leaving her disconnected from her Pitjantjatjara/Yankunytjatjara roots in central Australia. Fortunately, she found love and support in the care of foster parents in Port Pirie, South Australia.
Her journey into the world of dance commenced with classical ballet training at the Port Pirie Ballet School. At the age of 16, she earned a scholarship to Dance Concert Limited in Sydney. This opportunity allowed her to delve into various cultural dances and enroll in a dance and drama course at the National Black Theatre in Redfern.
In 1976, Lillian joined the National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association (NAISDA) and became a part of the Aboriginal Islander Dance Theatre (AIDT). Her talent and dedication were evident as she pursued further training at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City and the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA).
Lillian’s career took her across the globe as she toured with AIDT to Nigeria in 1977. She also actively supported the LGBTQ+ community during the AIDS pandemic by participating in Sydney Mardi Gras events.
Notably, Lillian Crombie featured in Baz Luhrmann’s 2008 film “Australia” after crossing paths with the director during her time at NIDA.
Beyond her artistic pursuits, Lillian founded The Lillian Crombie Foundation (TLCF) to assist individuals in need of support for travel during “Sorry Business” (funerals, grieving, and healing). Her philanthropic endeavors also include establishing dance workshops for children and planning the Lillian Crombie School of Dance and Drama in Port Pirie.
In 2019, Lillian received the Equity Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award, which she shared with Ningali Lawford-Wolf. Her legacy in Australian theater is that of a pioneer who paved the way for Indigenous stories to shine on the stage and screen.
For more information about Lillian Crombie click here.
Eddie Mabo (Land rights campaigner)
Edward Koiki Mabo, born on June 29, 1936, in the village of Las on the island of Mer in the Torres Strait, was a pivotal figure in the campaign for Indigenous land rights in Australia. Adopted by his uncle Benny Mabo after his mother’s passing, Mabo’s upbringing was steeped in traditional Torres Strait Islander practices and culture.
His passion for education was kindled by his teacher, Robert ‘Bob’ Victor Miles, who not only taught island children but also encouraged them to embrace their language and culture. This early exposure to “mainland” culture, combined with his linguistic skills and public speaking ability, played a crucial role in his later activism.
In 1973, Eddie and his wife Bonita Mabo established the Black Community School in Townsville, where Torres Strait Islander children could learn their culture alongside conventional subjects. The school wasn’t recognized by the Queensland education board, so Eddie served as its unpaid principal, cultural instructor, and even the school bus driver while maintaining a job as a gardener at James Cook University.
Mabo’s life took a significant turn in 1981 when he spoke at a land rights conference at James Cook University. His explanation of the land inheritance system on Murray Island sparked the idea for a test case on land rights through the legal system. Perth-based solicitor Greg McIntyre took on the case, eventually leading to the historic Mabo v Queensland (No 2) decision in 1992.
Tragically, Eddie Mabo passed away on January 21, 1992, at the age of 55. Just five months later, the High Court announced its groundbreaking decision recognizing the land rights of Indigenous Australians, now known as the Mabo decision.
Eddie Mabo’s legacy endures through his pivotal role in reshaping Australian land rights and his enduring impact on Indigenous recognition and rights. He received posthumous awards, including the Australian Human Rights Medal and was named the 1992 Australian of the Year by The Australian newspaper.
Patty Mills, born on August 11, 1988, in Canberra, Australia, is a prominent figure in the world of basketball. His heritage includes Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal Australian roots, which have played a significant role in shaping his identity. His uncle, Danny Morseu, was an Olympian basketball player, making Patty the third Indigenous Australian to represent the country in basketball.
Mills embarked on his basketball journey as a child, playing for a local Indigenous club called “The Shadows” established by his parents. He initially pursued Australian rules football but ultimately chose basketball. His early talent was evident when he received the prestigious RE Staunton Medal at the U20 Nationals in Perth in 2006.
He continued to excel in the sport, earning awards like the “most promising new sports talent” at the 2006 Deadlys Awards, which honor Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander achievements. Mills also received the 2006 Australia Basketball Player of the Year and the National Sportsperson of the Year by the NAIDOC.
Mills took his talents to the United States, playing college basketball for the Saint Mary’s Gaels. His stellar performances earned him recognition, including the WCC Newcomer of the Year and All-WCC First Team honors.
In 2009, Mills declared for the NBA draft and was selected by the Portland Trail Blazers. He played for the Trail Blazers for two seasons, later joining the San Antonio Spurs in 2012. Mills became a valuable asset off the bench for the Spurs, contributing to their 2014 NBA championship win.
During the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, Patty Mills led the Australian Boomers to their first-ever medal in international competition, marking a historic achievement. Known for his sharp three-point shooting and leadership qualities, Mills’ impact on and off the court has made him a respected figure in the basketball world.
His journey continued with a stint with the Brooklyn Nets, where he set records for three-point shooting. Mills’ dedication and passion for the sport have earned him a lasting legacy in Australian and international basketball. In 2023, he joined the Atlanta Hawks, continuing his career in the NBA.
Kenneth George Wyatt AM, born on August 4, 1952, in Bunbury, Western Australia, is a notable figure in Australian politics and a trailblazer for Indigenous Australians. He boasts a diverse heritage, including English, Irish, Indian, and Indigenous Australian roots. His early life began at the Roelands Aboriginal Mission, which historically housed Indigenous children separated from their families. His mother, Mona Abdullah, belonged to the Stolen Generations, while his father’s lineage combines Yamatji and Irish ancestry.
Before his political career, Wyatt served as a senior public servant with a focus on Aboriginal health and education, holding significant positions in the WA Office of Aboriginal Health, NSW Health, and the WA Department of Education.
In 2010, Wyatt entered Australian politics by representing the Division of Hasluck for the Liberal Party in the House of Representatives. His election marked a historic moment as he became the first Indigenous Australian elected to the House of Representatives. Despite initial challenges, he persevered and received respect from both sides of the aisle.
Throughout his political journey, Wyatt continued to break barriers. In 2015, he became the first Indigenous frontbencher in federal parliament when he was appointed Assistant Minister for Health. Later, in 2017, he took on the roles of Minister for Aged Care and Minister for Indigenous Health in the Turnbull government.
His accomplishments culminated in his appointment as Minister for Indigenous Australians in the Morrison government in 2019, making him the first Indigenous person to hold this position and earning him a place in the cabinet.
However, his political career met an unexpected turn when he lost his seat to the Labor candidate in the 2022 federal election. Despite this setback, Wyatt remained committed to advocating for Indigenous rights and recognition.
In April 2023, Wyatt made a significant decision to resign from the Liberal Party due to its stance on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament. He expressed disappointment in the party’s refusal to engage with Indigenous Australians’ desire to be heard and valued.
Gloria Petyarre, also known as Gloria Pitjara, was a renowned Aboriginal Australian artist born in 1942 in Utopia, Northern Territory, Australia. She hailed from the Anmatyerre community, located just north of Alice Springs. Petyarre gained widespread recognition for her exceptional contributions to the world of Indigenous art, with one of her most celebrated works being “Bush Medicine.”
Her artistic journey commenced in 1977 when she joined the Women’s Batik Group, a creative initiative launched by the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA). Petyarre continued to explore her artistic talents through her paintings and collaborated with her sister, Kathleen Petyarre, among her six siblings.
Petyarre’s distinctive style featured Batik painting techniques, characterized by bold strokes and a unique paint style. In 1999, she achieved significant acclaim by winning the prestigious Wynne Prize for her artwork titled “Leaves” at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. She was recognized by the Australian magazine Art Collector as “one of our most collectable Indigenous artists.”
Her artistry took her on a global journey, as she became a traveling artist following an art exhibit in 1988 initiated by CAAMA. She showcased her picture story exhibition in various countries, including Ireland, England, India, and the United States.
Petyarre’s artistic style encompassed large leaf paintings, intricate color blending on canvas, and broad, sweeping brushstrokes. Her work ranged from serene landscapes with natural hues to vibrant compositions featuring smaller strokes and vivid colors.
Gloria Petyarre’s artwork continues to captivate art enthusiasts and is found in collections worldwide, including the National Gallery of Australia. Her legacy endures as a testament to her extraordinary talent and profound impact on the world of Indigenous art. Petyarre passed away on June 8, 2021, in Alice Springs, leaving behind a lasting artistic legacy.
For more information on Gloria Petyarre click here.
Mick Dodson (Barrister)
Mick Dodson, born on April 10, 1950, is a distinguished Aboriginal Australian barrister, academic, and a member of the Yawuru people in the southern Kimberley region of Western Australia. His brother, Pat Dodson, is also a prominent Aboriginal leader and a senator representing Western Australia in the Federal Parliament.
After the passing of his parents, Dodson attended Monivae College in Hamilton, Victoria. In 1974, he achieved a significant milestone by becoming the first Indigenous person in Australia to graduate with degrees in Jurisprudence and Law from Monash University. Following graduation, he embarked on a career dedicated to justice and human rights.
Initially, Dodson worked as a criminal solicitor for the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service. Later, he transitioned into a criminal defense barrister at the Victorian Bar, where he continues to practice, specializing in native title cases. Throughout his career, Dodson has been a tireless advocate for the rights of Indigenous peoples, both in Australia and internationally.
He has made significant contributions as an academic in Indigenous law, serving as a professor of law at the Australian National University and directing its National Centre for Indigenous Studies. His commitment to Indigenous rights led to his appointment as a member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in 2005.
Dodson’s work extends to research, where he serves as the Chief Investigator for the “Serving Our Country: A History of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in the Defence of Australia” project, funded by the Australian Research Council.
In recognition of his outstanding contributions, Mick Dodson was named Australian of the Year on January 25, 2009. He continues to be a prominent figure in advocating for justice, human rights, and Indigenous rights in Australia and beyond. Professor Dodson retired from the Australian National University in March 2018, leaving a lasting legacy in the field of Indigenous law and advocacy.
Isabel Edie Coe (1951–2012) was a renowned Wiradjuri woman and a prominent figure in the Australian Aboriginal rights movement. Born in Cowra, New South Wales, and raised in the Erambie Mission, Coe made significant contributions to Indigenous activism and advocacy throughout her life.
In January 1972, Coe played a pivotal role in establishing the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra, a landmark protest against the Australian government’s refusal to recognize Aboriginal land rights. Alongside her husband Billy Craigie, Michael Anderson, Tony Coorey, and Bertie Williams, they planted a beach umbrella in front of Parliament House, symbolizing the embassy’s beginnings. This protest garnered widespread support from Indigenous communities across Australia.
Coe’s dedication to the Tent Embassy remained steadfast, and she helped ensure its continuity during the 1990s when there were rumors of the government’s intent to remove it. Throughout the years, the Embassy remained a focal point for Indigenous activism.
In addition to her involvement with the Tent Embassy, Coe was instrumental in establishing numerous Aboriginal organizations in Redfern, Sydney, including the Redfern Aboriginal Children’s Service, housing initiatives, medical services, and the National Aboriginal Council on HIV/AIDS.
She also took a leading role as the litigant in the pivotal legal case, Isabel Coe v the Commonwealth (1993), seeking recognition of Wiradjuri nation sovereignty. Although the case was unsuccessful, it highlighted the ongoing struggle for Indigenous sovereignty.
Aunty Isabel, as she was affectionately known, gained international attention during the lead-up to the Sydney 2000 Olympics, advocating for Indigenous rights. Despite health challenges, including diabetes, she remained a dedicated political activist until her passing at the age of 61.
Rosalie Lynette Kunoth-Monks OAM, also known as Ngarla Kunoth, was a remarkable Australian film actress, Aboriginal activist, and political figure, who was born in 1937, in Utopia, Northern Territory, to Anmatyerre parents. Her heritage was a fusion of Indigenous and German roots.
Kunoth-Monks’ acting career was catapulted in 1951 when she was chosen by filmmakers Charles and Elsa Chauvel to play the title role in their groundbreaking 1955 film, Jedda. Under the screen name Ngarla Kunoth, she became the first Indigenous Australian female lead in cinema, marking a significant milestone in film history.
Her activism journey commenced with a 10-year commitment to the Community of the Holy Name as an Anglican nun. After leaving the order, she married Bill Monks and began working at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, where she set up the first home in Victoria for Aboriginal children.
Returning to the Alice Springs region, Kunoth-Monks became a tireless advocate, working with various organisations and initiatives to improve the lives of Indigenous people. Her involvement extended to political roles when she served as an adviser to the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory and ran for election to the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly in 1980, opposing a dam project that threatened sacred lands.
Throughout her life, she continued to be an influential force, denouncing federal government interventions in the Northern Territory, advocating for Indigenous rights, and striving for self-sustainability. Her powerful speech on ABC TV’s Q&A in 2014, where she declared, “I am not the problem,” resonated deeply with many.
Kunoth-Monks was an ardent supporter of Indigenous culture and rights, influencing many through her tenacity and wisdom. Her passing in Alice Springs on January 26, 2022, at the age of 85, marked the end of a remarkable life dedicated to justice and equality. She was laid to rest with a state funeral attended by hundreds, leaving an enduring legacy of activism and resilience.
Throughout her life, Rosalie received several honours, including the Medal of the Order of Australia in 1993 and the Dr Yunupingu Award for Human Rights in 2014, recognising her significant contributions to the Indigenous community and human rights causes.
For more information on Rosalie Kunoth-Monks click here.
Sir Douglas Nicholls (VFL footballer/Governor of South Australia)
Legendary VFL footballer Sir Douglas Ralph Nicholls (1906–1988) was a prominent Aboriginal Australian hailing from the Yorta Yorta people. His remarkable life was characterised by achievements in various fields, including athletics, Christian ministry, community work, and advocacy for Aboriginal rights.
Born on December 9, 1906, on the Cummeragunja Reserve in New South Wales, Nicholls grew up in a strict religious environment. Despite limited formal education, he embarked on a successful career as a professional athlete, excelling in Australian rules football. He played for Northcote Football Club and Fitzroy Football Club in the Victorian Football League (VFL), becoming the first Aboriginal player to represent Victoria in interstate matches.
Nicholls’ sporting prowess extended beyond the football field; he was also a skilled sprinter and boxer. His athleticism provided employment during winters and allowed him to raise awareness for Indigenous causes during the off-season.
Beyond his sports career, Douglas Nicholls dedicated himself to community work and Christian ministry. He served as a social worker, pastor, and church planter, working diligently with Aboriginal communities to address social issues, alcohol abuse, and problems with the police.
He was the first Aboriginal Australian to be knighted when he was appointed Knight Bachelor in 1972 and subsequently a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 1977.
Nicholls was a key figure in the campaign to change the Australian Constitution to give the federal government the power to legislate for Indigenous people. His advocacy, along with the efforts of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI), culminated in the successful 1967 referendum.
In recognition of his contributions, Nicholls was appointed Governor of South Australia in 1976, becoming the first Indigenous Australian to hold viceregal office. However, his tenure was cut short due to health issues, and he resigned in 1977.
For more information on Sir Douglas Nicholls click here.
Johnathan Thurston (Rugby league player)
Johnathan Dean Thurston AM, born on April 25, 1983, is a renowned Australian former professional rugby league player celebrated for his contributions to the National Rugby League (NRL). Thurston made his mark as an Australian international, Queensland State of Origin representative, and Indigenous All Stars player, specializing as a halfback or five-eighth, and gaining recognition for his goal-kicking prowess.
Thurston’s journey began with the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs, where he clinched the 2004 NRL premiership. In 2005, he transitioned to the North Queensland Cowboys, reaching the grand final in his debut season. His stellar performances earned him Queensland and Australian caps in 2005 and 2006, respectively.
Notably, Thurston was an integral part of Queensland’s eight-year State of Origin winning streak from 2006, featuring in all 24 games during that period. His extraordinary skills led to a record-breaking moment in 2015 when he became the highest point-scorer in State of Origin history.
In 2015, Thurston co-captained the North Queensland Cowboys, securing their inaugural NRL Premiership. He was named the Clive Churchill Medallist for grand final man of the match. His incredible 2015 season also saw him make history as the first four-time Dally M Medallist and the first three-time recipient of the Golden Boot Award for the world’s best player.
Off the field, Thurston’s commitment to youth empowerment led him to establish the Johnathan Thurston Academy (JTAcademy) in 2018, where he currently serves as the Managing Director. This initiative empowers Australian youth by providing access to educational and vocational resources, enhancing their prospects for meaningful employment.
For more information on Johnathan Thurston click here.
Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, widely known as Gurrumul, was a remarkable Aboriginal Australian musician and multi-instrumentalist born on January 22, 1971, among the Yolŋu peoples.
Gurrumul Yunupingu. Photo supplied from documentary GURRUMUL.
Born blind on Elcho Island in the Northern Territory, Gurrumul displayed his musical talent from a young age, teaching himself to play various instruments, including a right-handed guitar played left-handed. His remarkable singing voice, sung in both Yolŋu languages and English, earned him widespread acclaim.
Gurrumul’s musical journey included membership in influential bands like Yothu Yindi and the Saltwater Band before embarking on a successful solo career. In 2008, his eponymous solo album, “Gurrumul,” made waves, debuting at No. 69 on the ARIA Charts and reaching triple platinum status. His unique voice, often described as having “transcendental beauty,” garnered fans worldwide, including Elton John, Sting, and Björk.
Throughout his career, Gurrumul received numerous awards and accolades, including ARIA Awards and the Archibald Prize for portraiture. His commitment to sharing wealth in accordance with Aboriginal tradition and his reluctance to give interviews highlighted his modesty. He believed in letting his music speak for him, expressing stories of his land and culture.
Tragically, Gurrumul passed away on July 25, 2017, at the age of 46 due to complications from hepatitis B, which he had contracted in childhood. His legacy lives on through posthumous releases, documentaries, and ongoing recognition of his profound contribution to music and fostering racial harmony in Australia.
In 2020, Decca Records acquired the rights to his catalogue and future recordings, ensuring that Gurrumul’s music continues to inspire generations to come.
Alexis Wright, a prominent Waanyi (Aboriginal Australian) writer born on November 25, 1950, is celebrated for her literary achievements and activism. Raised in Cloncurry, Queensland, after her white cattleman father’s passing, Wright hails from the Waanyi nation in the southern Gulf of Carpentaria. Throughout her life, she has been a staunch advocate for land rights, particularly among Indigenous communities.
Wright’s literary career has been marked by exceptional contributions, including four novels, one biography, and various prose works. Her debut novel, “Plains of Promise” (1997), garnered acclaim and multiple award nominations. Additionally, her non-fiction works, such as “Take Power” (1998) and “Grog War” (1997), delved into critical topics like land rights history and the introduction of alcohol restrictions.
However, it was her second novel, “Carpentaria” (2006), that catapulted her to literary stardom. Despite initial rejection by major publishers, this epic work received numerous accolades, including the prestigious Miles Franklin Award.
In 2013, her third novel, “The Swan Book,” explored the complex cultural and racial challenges faced by Indigenous Australians and was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous Writing. Wright’s tribute to Tracker Tilmouth, “Tracker” (2017), an unconventional and epic biographical work, earned her the Stella Prize in 2018.
Beyond her literary accomplishments, Alexis Wright has been actively involved in academia, holding positions as a Distinguished Research Fellow at Western Sydney University and serving as the Boisbouvier Chair in Australian Literature at the University of Melbourne in 2017. Her work continues to impact both the literary world and the ongoing struggle for Indigenous rights and recognition in Australia. In 2023, she received the Creative Australia Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature, a testament to her enduring influence.
Dan Sultan, born in 1983, is a versatile Australian artist known for his contributions to music, acting, and literature. He began his musical journey at a young age, picking up the guitar at four and penning his first song at 10. His early influences led him to pursue a career in music.
Sultan’s debut solo album, Homemade Biscuits, was released in 2006 and showcased his talent for storytelling through music. He gained recognition at the 2007 Deadly Awards for Your Love Is Like a Song, co-written with Scott Wilson.
In 2009, Sultan released his second studio album, Get Out While You Can, earning critical acclaim and winning ARIA Music Awards for Best Male Artist and Best Blues & Roots Album in 2010. His music, described as “country soul rock ‘n’ roll,” resonated with audiences.
The release of his third album, Blackbird, in 2014 solidified his position in the Australian music scene, reaching No. 4 on the ARIA Albums Chart and winning the ARIA Award for Best Rock Album.
Sultan’s career continued to evolve with the release of his fourth studio album, Killer, in 2017, showcasing his versatility as an artist. He ventured into children’s music with Nali & Friends, which won the ARIA Award for Best Children’s Album in 2019.
Beyond music, Dan Sultan made his mark in acting, appearing in the 2009 film Bran Nue Dae. He also collaborated with various indigenous musicians in projects like Black Arm Band and contributed to Paul Kelly’s The Merri Soul Sessions.
In 2023, Sultan signed with Unified Management and released a self-titled seventh studio album, reaffirming his status as a multi-talented artist in the Australian creative landscape.
Mary Ann Bugg, born on May 7, 1834, in the Gloucester area of New South Wales, lived a remarkable life that defied convention and expectations of her time.
The daughter of an Indigenous Worimi woman named Charlotte and a white convict named James Bugg, Bugg’s early life was relatively stable despite the racial prejudices of the era.
Bugg received an education, an unusual privilege for an Indigenous child at the time, thanks to her father, who paid for her to attend school in Sydney. At the age of 14, she married an ex-convict named Edmund Baker, and they had their first child in 1849.
However, her life took an unexpected turn in 1861 when she became involved with a notorious bushranger Frederick Wordsworth Ward, better known as Captain Thunderbolt.
Bugg left her first husband, had several more partners, and bore children both in and out of wedlock. Her association with Thunderbolt began around 1863, and she became an integral part of his bushranging escapades.
She provided shelter, disseminated false information, and nursed Thunderbolt back to health after he was shot. Bugg even participated in robberies and accompanied Thunderbolt across the colony, acting as his scout, lover, and confidante.
Bugg’s public image was complex. While she donned men’s pants for practicality while on the run, she also cultivated the persona of a refined lady and declared herself to be “the Captain’s Lady” and Ward’s lawful wife.
Contrary to the popular Thunderbolt legend, Bugg did not meet a tragic end. In 1867, she chose to leave Ward, eventually marrying her longest-term partner, John Burrows. She lived a prosperous and quiet life, raising a family, purchasing land, and becoming a nurse. She passed away on April 22, 1905, in Mudgee, New South Wales.
Mark Gordon Ella, born on June 5, 1959, is an indigenous Australian former rugby union footballer who left an indelible mark on the sport during his relatively short but dazzling career. Hailing from New South Wales, Ella played as a flyhalf (five-eighth) and represented Australia in 25 Test matches, captaining the national team on 10 occasions.
He and his twin brother Glen and older brother Gary were educated at Matraville High School, in Sydney, with all three going on to play for the Wallabies.
Ella burst onto the international rugby scene in 1980 when he played a pivotal role in Australia’s historic Bledisloe Cup Test series victory over the New Zealand All Blacks. His unique playing style and visionary approach to the game set him apart. He stood unusually close to his scrum-half, drawing defenders and creating space for his teammates. Ella’s exceptional ball-handling skills, including his famous “around-the-body pass,” allowed him to ignite backline movements and keep the ball alive, thrilling spectators.
In 1984, during the Australia rugby union tour of Britain and Ireland, Ella achieved rugby union’s Grand Slam by scoring a try in every Test match of the series, a feat he had also accomplished as a schoolboy in 1977-78. However, at just 25 years old, he stunned the rugby world by retiring from international rugby, turning down lucrative offers.
Beyond his playing career, Ella has been involved in various roles in sports management and broadcasting. He was one of the inaugural inductees into the Australian Rugby Union Hall of Fame in 2005 and the International Rugby Hall of Fame in 1997. Ella’s influence on the game and his extraordinary skill set continue to be celebrated, with Australian rugby legends like David Campese and Michael O’Connor regarding him as one of the greatest players they have ever seen.
James (Jimmie) Barker (1900-1972) was the first known Indigenous sound recordist as well as being an activist and inventor, creating recording and amplification devices from household objects. Born on July 28, 1900, in Cunnamulla, Queensland, he was the son of William Barker and Margaret Ellis, a Murawari woman. His parents separated when he was young, and he was raised by his mother among his relatives on Milroy station near the Culgoa River in New South Wales. It was during this time that he developed a deep connection to his Murawari heritage and an interest in the technology used on grazing properties.
In 1912, due to concerns about the Aborigines Protection Board’s powers to remove Indigenous children from their families, Jimmie’s mother moved the family to Brewarrina ‘mission,’ a station managed by the APB. It was there that he experienced the repressive discipline and discrimination against Aboriginal culture of the time. Despite these challenges, he managed to teach himself how to read by 1915.
Over the years Barker worked as a handyman, negotiated between Aborigines and bureaucrats, and became a central figure in his community. He resisted the APB’s policies, including the forced relocation of the Wangkumarra people from Tibooburra to Brewarrina in 1938.
Jimmie Barker was an outspoken supporter of activists like William Ferguson, Herbert Groves, and Pearl Gibbs in their efforts to abolish the APB. He provided valuable information about the conditions at Brewarrina station to the Legislative Assembly’s select committee in 1937.
In 1968, Barker shared his knowledge of the Murawari language with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies and began recording the history of his community. These recordings celebrated Murawari culture and shed light on the challenges of rural racism. His tapes, edited by Janet Mathews, were published as “The Two Worlds of Jimmie Barker” in 1977. Jimmie Barker passed away on July 7, 1972, in Brewarrina, leaving behind a lasting legacy of advocacy and cultural preservation.
Charles Nelson Perkins AO, widely known as Charlie Perkins (1936-2000), was a trailblazing Aboriginal Australian activist, soccer player, and public administrator. Born on June 16, 1936, at the old Alice Springs Telegraph Station, he hailed from a diverse heritage—his mother, Hetty Perkins, had an Arrernte and white heritage, while his father, Martin Connelly, had Irish and Kalkadoon roots. This rich background would later influence his passion for advocating Indigenous rights.
He was a talented soccer player who trialed for Liverpool, Manchester United and Everton in the late 1950s.
Charles Perkins made history by becoming the first Indigenous Australian man to graduate from a tertiary institution, earning a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Sydney in 1966.
In 1965, Perkins played a pivotal role in organising and leading the Freedom Ride — a bus tour across New South Wales aimed at exposing discrimination against Aboriginal people in small towns such as Moree, Kempsey and Walgett. Inspired by the US Civil Rights Freedom Ride, this initiative sought to highlight disparities in living conditions, education, and healthcare for Indigenous Australians.
Perkins also played a crucial role in advocating for a “yes” vote in the 1967 Aboriginal referendum, which led to constitutional amendments enabling the inclusion of Aboriginal people in censuses and giving the Australian Parliament the authority to enact legislation for Aboriginal communities.
His public service career began in 1969, where he worked in the Office of Aboriginal Affairs, later becoming the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Despite facing challenges and controversies, Perkins continued to be a fierce advocate for Indigenous rights, serving in various roles and organisations, including the National Aborigines Consultative Committee and the Aboriginal Development Commission.
For more information on Charles Perkins click here.
Elma Gada Kris (Dancer/Choreographer)
Elma Gada Kris is a renowned dancer and choreographer, who was born on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait, she represents the Wagadagam, Kaurareg, Sipingur, Gebbara, and Kai Dangal Buai peoples.
Her journey in dance began with her education at the National Aboriginal Islander Skills Development Association (NAISDA) Dance College in Sydney. She honed her skills in this creative environment and in 1997, joined the prestigious Bangarra Dance Theatre, where she danced and choreographed for over two decades.
Her artistic contributions to the company were described by Bangarra Dance Theatre’s artistic director, Stephen Page, as “vital within Bangarra’s story and evolution”. She also played a pivotal role in bringing Torres Strait Islander stories to the stage.
Kris’s talent extends beyond her work with Bangarra, founding her own dance group, Bibir. He choreographer works include Malu, Bupau Ipikazil, Bupau Mabigal, Emeret Lu and parts of the Sydney Olympics opening ceremony.
Kris has received numerous accolades, including the 2019 NAIDOC Award for Artist of the Year, the 2016 Australian Dance Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Dancer, and the 2007 Deadly Award for Dancer of the Year.
For more information on Elma Gada Kris click here.
Jacinta Nampijinpa Price (Politician)
Jacinta Yangapi Nampijinpa Price, born on May 12, 1981, in Darwin, Northern Territory, is a politician and cultural advocate known for her staunch views on Aboriginal issues. Price’s heritage is a blend of Anglo-Celtic descent from her father, David Price, and Warlpiri ancestry from her mother, Bess Price, a respected Warlpiri community leader and former politician.
Her journey into politics began when she was elected as a councillor for the Alice Springs Town Council in 2015. During her tenure, she served as deputy mayor and actively engaged in various community issues. In 2019, she contested the Division of Lingiari in the federal election as a Country Liberal Party candidate but was unsuccessful.
In 2022, Price achieved a significant milestone by becoming a Senator for the Northern Territory, representing the Country Liberal Party. She secured her position alongside Labor’s Malarndirri McCarthy. Within federal parliament, she sits with the National Party.
Price is well-known for her passionate advocacy on Aboriginal community matters. She emphasises law and order approaches to address the issues faced by Aboriginal communities, such as domestic violence and welfare dependency. She opposes initiatives such as the proposed Indigenous Voice to Parliament and calls for preserving Australia Day and the national flag.
In her maiden speech to the Senate in July 2022, Price outlined her priorities, which included addressing housing concerns, ensuring women’s safety, and promoting economic development in remote communities. She invoked the legacy of the first Aboriginal Senator, Neville Bonner, emphasising the importance of economic independence and free enterprise.
In April 2023, Price took on the role of Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians in the Dutton shadow ministry, where she continues to advocate for her conservative stance on Indigenous politics.
For more information on Jacinta Nampijinpa Price click here.
Lionel Rose (Boxer)
Lionel Edmund Rose MBE (June 21, 1948 – May 8, 2011) was an iconic boxer who left an indelible mark on the world of sports and Indigenous recognition.
Born and raised in Victoria, Australia, Rose had a humble beginning, growing up in challenging circumstances. He developed a passion for boxing from his father, Roy, who was a skilled fighter at local events.
Rose, of Gunditjmara (Dhauwurd Wurrung) heritage, started his boxing journey under the tutelage of Frank Oakes, a Warragul trainer, who would become his father-in-law when Rose married Oakes’ daughter, Jenny.
At the age of 16, Rose embarked on his professional boxing career, quickly rising through the ranks.
He made history by becoming the first Indigenous Australian to win a world title when he defeated Fighting Harada for the world bantamweight title in 1968. This achievement catapulted him to national hero status, earning him admiration both in Australia and abroad, and particularly among Aboriginal communities.
Rose’s boxing prowess continued as he defended his title and took on formidable opponents like Reuben Olivares, Takao Sakurai and Rocky Gattellari. He also ventured into the lightweight division but eventually retired from professional boxing with a record of 42 wins and 11 losses, with 12 wins by knockout.
In addition to his boxing career, Rose pursued a singing career in the 1970s, achieving recognition with hits like I Thank You and Please Remember Me. His music, produced and written by Johnny Young, resonated with audiences and added to his legacy.
For more information about Lionel Rose click here.
Shirley Colleen Smith (Social worker)
Shirley Colleen Smith, or Mum Shirl, was a Warudjuri woman born in 1921 on Erambie Mission near Cowra in Central West NSW. Her time as an activist and social worker saw countless Indigenous Australians being treated with compassion, and provided with shelter, medical attention, and a platform for their struggles and stories.
Smith was brought up by her grandparents, who taught her to speak 16 Aboriginal languages. She maintained this fierce connection to culture and country even once she moved to Sydney. After her brother was imprisoned, Smith began regularly visiting prisoners, and was even relied upon in court cases involving the Aboriginal community.
In the 1970s her work became more organised, as she helped found the Aboriginal Legal Service, the Aboriginal Medical Service, the Aboriginal Black Theatre, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, the Aboriginal Children’s Service, the Aboriginal Housing Company, and the Detoxification Centre. In 1972, Smith spoke alongside PM Gough Whitlam at a Labor Party campaign event. She continued to personally volunteer, offering her home to any Indigenous people needing a place to stay, and someone to talk to.
She was awarded a Member of the British Empire in 1977, and a Member of the Order of Australia in 1985. However, Smith expressed complicated feelings in accepting these awards, as at the time there were still businesses across the country that would not even serve her, and equality was far from reached.
Smith continued to support her community – in prisons, politically, and on the streets – until her death in 1998.
Rachel Perkins (Filmmaker)
Rachel Perkins is a distinguished Australian film and television director, producer, and screenwriter, known for her exceptional contributions to Indigenous storytelling in the entertainment industry. Born in Canberra in 1970, she is of Arrernte and Kalkadoon heritage and was raised by her renowned Aboriginal activist father, Charles Perkins, and mother Eileen.
Perkins embarked on her career journey by moving to Alice Springs at the age of 18, where she initiated her career with a traineeship at the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association. Her commitment to Indigenous representation in media led her to establish Blackfella Films in 1992. Through this production company, she has played a pivotal role in creating compelling Australian content, particularly focusing on Indigenous stories. Some of her notable works include the films Radiance (1998), One Night the Moon (2001), Bran Nue Dae (2010), and Jasper Jones (2017).
Additionally, Perkins has served as a Commissioner with the Australian Film Commission and has been a board member of Screen Australia since 2009. Her involvement in Indigenous filmmaking and storytelling extends to her role as the president of the AIATSIS Foundation since 2015, which is affiliated with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.
In 2019, Rachel Perkins delivered the ABC’s annual Boyer Lecture titled ‘The End of Silence’, highlighting her ongoing commitment to amplifying Indigenous voices and narratives in Australian media.
Katina Law, who traces her roots to the Worora and Walmajarri peoples, is a highly accomplished executive with a career spanning over three decades. Her extensive international experience has encompassed various financial and general management roles.
She currently serves as a Non-Executive Director for ASX-listed companies Yandal Resources Ltd and DGO Gold Ltd. Additionally, she holds the position of Non-Executive Director at the headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation. Beyond her corporate roles, Katina is deeply committed to making a difference in underprivileged Indigenous communities across diverse regions, including the West Kimberley, Central Deserts, and Perth metropolitan areas. Her involvement on the boards of several non-profit organisations reflects her dedication to creating positive change.
Katina is also a successful entrepreneur, having co-founded multiple businesses, including the award-winning IPS Management Consultants and Dutjahn Sandalwood Oils. Notably, she actively advocates for Indigenous businesses, forging connections with government and corporate entities to promote their interests.
Yagan (c.1795–1833) was a prominent Aboriginal warrior from the Noongar people, known for his role in early conflicts between Indigenous Australians and British settlers in Western Australia. He was born into the Whadjuk Noongar people, part of a larger tribe called Beeliar, and was the son of Midgegooroo, a respected elder of the Beeliar tribe. Yagan was recognised for his impressive physical prowess, including his ability to throw spears accurately over long distances.
Tensions between Indigenous Australians and British settlers escalated when Yagan and his family group sought retribution for the killing of one of their members by settlers. Yagan and his father, Midgegooroo, were involved in attacks on settlers, leading to Yagan’s declaration as an outlaw with a bounty on his head.
Yagan’s life came to a tragic end when he was killed by settlers William and James Keates in 1833. His head was severed from his body, and it eventually ended up in England as an anthropological curiosity.
Decades later, efforts were made to repatriate Yagan’s head to Australia, and it was successfully returned in 1997. After years of debate and preparations, Yagan’s head was reburied in a private ceremony in Belhus, Western Australia, in 2010, near where it was believed the rest of his body lay.
Today, Yagan is remembered as a significant figure in Australian history, especially within the Noongar community. He is celebrated for his bravery and resistance against the encroachment of British settlers onto Indigenous lands, and his legacy lives on in various ways, including the naming of the Yagan Bridge and Yagan Square in Perth.
Adam Goodes, born in 1980, is a former Australian rules footballer renowned for his illustrious career with the Sydney Swans in the Australian Football League (AFL). Goodes boasts an exceptional legacy in VFL/AFL history as a dual Brownlow Medallist, dual premiership winner, four-time All-Australian team member, and a key representative of Australia in the International Rules Series. His contribution to the sport was further immortalised as a member of the Indigenous Team of the Century.
One of Goodes’ most remarkable achievements was breaking the record for the most VFL/AFL games played by an Indigenous player during the 2014 AFL season, surpassing the previous record held by Andrew McLeod. Although this record was later eclipsed by Shaun Burgoyne in 2019. At the time of his retirement in 2015 Goodes had played more games than any other Indigenous player, although this was later surpassed by Lance Franklin.
Beyond his sporting prowess, Goodes is celebrated for his community engagement and advocacy against racism. In recognition of his dedication to social causes, he was honored with the title of Australian of the Year in 2014. However, his outspoken stance on racial issues made him the target of sustained booing from opposition fans starting in 2013, which eventually led him to take a leave of absence from the AFL before retiring. The “booing saga” sparked a national conversation about racism in Australia and prompted an official apology from the AFL in 2019 for not adequately supporting him.
Goodes was drafted by the Sydney Swans in 1997 and quickly rose to prominence, winning the Rising Star Award in his second season. His career featured multiple positional shifts, including stints in the ruck and on the wing. He won the Brownlow Medal in 2003 and 2006, solidifying his status as one of the league’s premier players.
Throughout his career, Goodes demonstrated versatility, excelling in various positions on the field. He played a pivotal role in the Swans’ 2005 premiership victory, contributing both in the midfield and forward line. His consistency and leadership earned him accolades, such as selection in the All-Australian team and life membership with the Swans.
In his later years in the AFL, Goodes continued to impress, reaching his 300th game milestone and securing his fourth All-Australian selection. He capped off his career with a second premiership win in 2012. Following his retirement, Goodes remained active in the Indigenous community, co-chairing the Goodes O’Loughlin Foundation, which focuses on education, employment, and healthy lifestyles for Indigenous youth.
Albert Namatjira, born Elea Namatjira on July 28, 1902, in Hermannsburg Mission, Central Australia, was a pioneering Arrernte painter who left an indelible mark on Australian art. Raised in a Western Arrernte community and baptised as Albert, he displayed artistic talent from a young age. But it wasn’t until 1934, at the age of 32, that he began to paint seriously under the guidance of Rex Battarbee.
Alice Springs Country, 1954, by Albert Namatjira.
Namatjira’s unique style combined Western art techniques with his indigenous perspective, depicting the Australian outback in rich watercolors. His landscapes showcased the rugged geological features of the land and the distinctive Australian flora, particularly the iconic white gum trees. These paintings, characterised by their intricate patterns and vibrant colours, resonated with both indigenous and Western audiences.
His art gained widespread acclaim, and Namatjira became the first Aboriginal artist to achieve national and international recognition. Queen Elizabeth II admired his work, and in 1953, he was awarded the Queen’s Coronation Medal. His portrait painted by William Dargie won the prestigious Archibald Prize in 1956, marking a historic moment for Aboriginal representation in art.
Despite his success, Namatjira faced significant challenges in his personal life. He grappled with the responsibility of supporting an extended family and experienced financial difficulties. Legal restrictions on Aboriginal people at the time also posed hurdles, although he was granted full citizenship rights in 1957.
Tragically, in 1958, Namatjira was imprisoned for a minor alcohol-related offense. This led to a public outcry, and he was released after serving less than two months in Papunya. However, his health deteriorated, and he passed away on August 8, 1959, in Alice Springs, succumbing to heart disease.
Albert Namatjira’s legacy endures through his artistic contributions and the recognition of his cultural heritage. His descendants, including his great-grandson Vincent Namatjira, continue to carry on his artistic tradition, bridging the gap between indigenous and Western art forms. His impact on the art world and the broader recognition of Aboriginal art and culture remain profound and enduring.
Michelle Hobbs, an accomplished Indigenous scientist and Associate Lecturer at Griffith University’s Australian Rivers Institute and School of Environment and Science, has been honored with the 2023 Australian Academy of Science Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Scientist Award. Hailing from the Bidjara heritage in Central Queensland, Michelle is also a dedicated PhD candidate.
Her groundbreaking research is focused on the critical freshwater ecosystems and the preservation of freshwater mussels, particularly emphasizing their cultural significance to Indigenous communities. Recognizing the alarming decline of freshwater mussels, Michelle aims to provide valuable insights that address their conservation and management.
Freshwater mussels, a highly imperiled group of animals, play a crucial role in Indigenous cultures. Michelle acknowledges the limited existing knowledge from Indigenous perspectives and cultural values concerning these creatures. Her project seeks to bridge this gap by exploring the cultural values, uses, and significance of mussels to Indigenous peoples.
Moreover, Michelle’s work challenges current risk assessment methods and resource management practices, which often overlook the cultural aspects of biota and landscapes. Through her research, she aims to elevate Indigenous voices and perspectives in natural resource management.
In addition to her academic pursuits, Michelle brings years of industry experience as an environmental consultant. She has conducted research on population and community ecology, water quality assessments, and the environmental impacts of mining and water resource development. Her extensive fieldwork experience spans various regions in Australia and abroad, including the Murray-Darling Basin, Western Australia, Queensland, Papua New Guinea, and international locations like the Philippines, Laos, Indonesia, and Canada.
Michelle’s dedication to Indigenous knowledge and environmental conservation has made her a prominent figure in the scientific community, and her efforts are poised to contribute significantly to the preservation of Australian freshwater ecosystems and Indigenous cultural values. Later this year, she plans to collaborate with First Nations researchers in Canada to further explore Indigenous uses and management of mussels, strengthening her research’s global perspective.
For more information on Michelle Hobbs click here.
Peter Kirby (Paralympian)
Peter Kirby, the accomplished Australian Paralympian, was born around 1964 or 1965 in Bega, New South Wales, to a Wiradjuri father and mother. His family experienced the challenges of indigenous segregation, eventually settling in Eden, New South Wales.
At the age of 13, Peter faced a life-altering incident when he lost his right hand and forearm due to a tragic accident involving fallen high voltage power lines at the Eden sportsground. Despite this setback, Kirby’s indomitable spirit and athletic prowess persisted.
Before his accident, he was already a standout athlete in high school. With the guidance of teacher Phil Gould, he adapted his running style to accommodate his amputation.
In a remarkable display of resilience, at the age of 19, Peter Kirby represented Australia at the 1984 New York Paralympics in five athletics events, earning a total of five medals. Among these, he secured a gold medal in the Men’s 4×100m Relay A4–9 event and a silver in the Men’s 4 x 400m Relay A4–9 event. Additionally, he clinched three bronze medals in the Men’s 100m A6, Men’s 400m A6, and Men’s Long jump A6 events.
Notably, Peter Kirby made history as the first indigenous Australian Paralympian to win a gold medal.
Mandawuy Yunupingu, born as Tom Djambayang Bakamana Yunupingu on September 17, 1956, in Yirrkala, Arnhem Land, was an influential musician and educator. He belonged to the Gumatj people and held the skin name Gudjuk, but later adopted the name Mandawuy in accordance with Yolngu custom. Mandawuy was a member of a renowned Indigenous family, with his father, Munggurrawuy Yunupingu, being a prominent Gumatj clan leader and artist.
In 1989, Mandawuy Yunupingu took on the role of assistant principal at the Yirrkala Community School, the very school he once attended. He later became the school’s principal and played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Yolngu Action Group and the introduction of the Both Ways system, which combined traditional Aboriginal teaching with Western methods.
In addition to his educational contributions, Mandawuy was the frontman of the renowned Aboriginal rock group, Yothu Yindi, starting from 1986. The band fused traditional Indigenous music and dance with Western popular music and released several albums, including “Homeland Movement,” “Tribal Voice,” and “Freedom.” Their hit song “Treaty” became a significant anthem for Indigenous rights and reached the top of the charts.
Mandawuy Yunupingu’s dedication to Indigenous culture and reconciliation was recognised with numerous awards, including being named Australian of the Year in 1992. He also received an honorary doctorate from the Queensland University of Technology and was posthumously awarded the Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) for his outstanding contributions to the performing arts, education, and social justice for Indigenous people.
Mandawuy Yunupingu passed away on June 2, 2013, after a prolonged battle with kidney disease. His legacy lives on through his music, advocacy, and the annual Dr Yunupingu Award for Human Rights, which was established in his honor.
For more information on Mandawuy Yunupingu click here.
Deborah Mailman (Actor)
Deborah Mailman AM, born in 1972 in Mount Isa, Queensland, is an accomplished actress and singer. She is recognised for her versatile performances across film and television. She has both Aboriginal (Bidjara) and Māori (Ngāti Porou and Te Arawa) heritage.
Deborah’s journey began at the Queensland University of Technology Academy of the Arts, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in performing arts in 1992. She quickly established herself in the world of Australian theater, starring in various productions, including Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and the solo show The Seven Stages of Grieving, which she co-wrote.
In 1998, Mailman made her mark on the big screen with her debut role in the independent film Radiance, a performance that earned her the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Other notable works include Rabbit-Proof Fence, Paper Planes, Bran Nue Dae and The Sapphires.
Her television career includes prominent roles in The Secret Life of Us, which she won multiple Logie Awards for, Offspring and Redfern Now. In 2019, she took on the lead role of Alex Irving in the acclaimed political drama series Total Control.
Beyond her artistic achievements, Mailman co-hosted the AACTA Awards, served on the Sydney Opera House Trust, and was appointed to the Screen Australia Board.
For more information about Deborah Mailman click here.
Gladys Elphick (Community leader)
Gladys Elphick MBE led a dedicated life of advocacy and leadership in the Aboriginal community. Of Kaurna and Ngadjuri descent, she was affectionately known as Auntie Glad.
The Gladys Elphick Google Doodle.
Born as Gladys Walters in Adelaide, South Australia, in 1904, Elphick spent her early years at the Point Pearce Mission on the Yorke Peninsula. Her life took various paths, including working as a domestic and contributing to the war effort during World War II. She married twice, first to Walter Hughes and later to Frederick Elphick.
In the 1940s, Elphick became involved with the Aborigines Advancement League of South Australia, and her commitment to community causes grew. In 1964, she became the founding president of the Council of Aboriginal Women of South Australia, a pivotal role she held until 1973. The Council was instrumental in campaigning for the 1967 Referendum and subsequently evolved into the Aboriginal Council of South Australia in 1973, encompassing men in its mission.
Elphick’s legacy is marked by numerous honors and acknowledgments. She was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1971 for her significant contributions, and was named South Australian Aborigine of the Year in 1984.
She died in 1988, but her memory lives on through the Gladys Elphick Award, given to outstanding Aboriginal women, and Gladys Elphick Park, a park in Adelaide’s western parklands. In 2019, a Google Doodle was dedicated to her, and the inaugural Gladys Elphick Memorial Oration was established in 2022, honoring her enduring legacy in advancing Indigenous rights and wellbeing.
Greg Inglis, hailing from Kempsey in New South Wales, embarked on his remarkable rugby league journey at just 15 years old. His talent was discovered at a junior carnival, leading to his first senior game for Hunter Sports High School. He later moved to Brisbane, attending Wavell State High School and playing for the Northern Suburb Devils.
Inglis gained notoriety as a try-scoring phenomenon during his time with the Melbourne feeder club at the age of 17. He joined Melbourne’s full-time roster in 2005, making his NRL debut against the Parramatta Eels in round six. During his rookie season, Inglis showcased his versatility, switching from winger to full-back and continuing to impress.
A defining moment of his rookie season occurred during the finals when he scored the match-winning try as an 18-year-old. This demonstrated his big-game mentality, and he was duly awarded the Dally M Rookie of the Year medal for his outstanding 2005 season.
Inglis went on to have a stellar career, making a significant impact in various positions such as full-back, centre, and stand-off. His powerful and creative style of play earned him recognition both nationally and internationally. He represented Queensland in State of Origin from 2006, becoming a vital part of their success. His international debut in the 2006 Tri-Nations series revealed his scoring prowess.
Inglis transitioned to the South Sydney Rabbitohs in 2011, where he continued to shine. He won his third NRL Premiership title in 2014. His career was marked by numerous accolades, including the Golden Boot award in 2009. Inglis’s legacy extends beyond his impressive statistics, leaving an indelible mark on rugby league through his dominance, versatility, and his contribution to Queensland’s State of Origin dynasty. In April 2019, he retired due to injury concerns after an illustrious career that saw him score 149 tries in 263 domestic-level appearances.
Mannalargenna, also spelled Manalakina (c.1770–1835), was a significant Aboriginal Tasmanian leader and warrior. Hailing from the Plangermaireener clan in the Ben Lomond tribal area of north-eastern Tasmania, Mannalargenna stood at 5′ 8″ and was known for wearing grease and red ochre over his entire body. He rose to prominence during the tumultuous period known as the Black War when British settlers arrived in Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania).
Mannalargenna played a pivotal role in leading guerrilla-style attacks against the British settlers. His notable act of defiance occurred in 1829 when he freed five of his people, including four women and a boy, who were held captive in John Batman’s house for a year.
While it appears he briefly joined George Robinson’s mission aimed at convincing Indigenous people to “surrender,” Mannalargenna may have been strategically guiding Robinson away from his people. Despite promises that he would not be sent to Flinders Island, those promises were broken, and he ultimately passed away in captivity at Wybalenna in 1835. Before arriving at Big Green Island, he symbolically cut off his ochred hair and beard.
Mannalargenna had two wives and several children. His legacy lives on, with descendants like his five times great-grandson, Uncle Jack Charles. Today, Mannalergenna Day is celebrated in Little Musselroe Bay to honor his memory and Parlevar culture. A monument stands in his memory at the Wybalenna Mission Site Cemetery, and a sketch of Mannalargenna by artist Thomas Bock is preserved in the British Museum in London, England.
Eleanor Harding (1934-1996) was an influential political activist born on Erub Island in the Torres Strait. Her mother, Emma Pitt, was from the Meriam Mer people, while her father, Fred Nain, belonged to the Kuku peoples of Cape York, Queensland. After the death of her father Harding moved to the mainland of Queensland, facing harsh discriminatory laws against Aboriginal people in the region.
In 1956, she sought a better life with fewer discriminatory barriers and moved to Melbourne, eventually settling in Fitzroy. Throughout her life, she had seven children with various partners, with each child taking her partner’s surname.
Harding played a pivotal role in advocating for civil rights and equality for Indigenous Australians. She was part of the movement that successfully lobbied for the passage of the historic 1967 Aboriginal Australian Referendum, amending the Australian Constitution and paving the way for significant legislation addressing Indigenous rights.
She was also actively involved in women’s issues and protested against the hardships faced by women and Indigenous communities due to colonialism. In the 1970s, she supported victims of domestic violence and encouraged her children to pursue higher education.
Throughout her life, Harding served on the boards of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service and the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service. She was a driving force behind the Margaret Tucker Hostel, providing safe housing for young, homeless, Aboriginal women.
Harding passed away in Melbourne in 1996 and was laid to rest on Darnley Island. Her legacy endures, with the annual “Aunty Eleanor Harding Memorial Award” recognising emerging talent in the Indigenous performing arts community. In 2012, Eleanor Harding was posthumously honored when she was inducted into the Victorian Aboriginal Honour Roll by the State of Victoria.
For more information on Eleanor Harding click here.
Budjerah Julum Slabb, known as Budjerah, is a talented singer-songwriter hailing from Fingal Head, New South Wales. He was born on March 17, 2002, and proudly identifies as a Coodjinburra man from the Bundjalung nation.
Budjerah’s remarkable musical journey began early in life, shaped by his parents, who were licensed pastors and heavily involved in music. From childhood, he was immersed in the world of music, gaining inspiration from gospel singers like The Clark Sisters and artists such as Sam Cooke.
In 2020, Budjerah rose to prominence with his debut single, Missing You, which captivated audiences and topped the Triple J airplay chart. His musical style effortlessly blends influences from soul, hip-hop, R&B, indie, and pop, creating a distinctive sound that resonates with a broad range of listeners.
His self-titled debut EP, produced by Matt Corby, was released in March 2021, further establishing his presence in the music scene. In the same year, Budjerah won the ARIA Award for Breakthrough Artist.
In 2022, Budjerah continued to dazzle fans with the release of his EP Conversations and embarked on his debut world tour. He also supported Ed Sheeran during his Australian tour and released singles like Ready for the Sky and Therapy.
Budjerah’s soulful vocals and exceptional songwriting abilities have garnered him widespread recognition, making him a rising star in the music industry.
Gary Edward Foley, born in 1950 in Grafton, New South Wales, is a distinguished activist, writer, actor, and academic. Hailing from the Gumbaynggirr people, Foley spent part of his early life in Nambucca Heads and arrived in Redfern around 1967 at the age of 17. Despite being expelled from school at 15, his journey led him to become a prominent figure in the Indigenous rights movement.
Foley’s activism started when he became involved with the “black power” movement in Redfern, inspired by the American Black Panther Party. He was a key figure in organising protests against the Springboks in 1971, leading to the cancellation of an Australian tour by the South African cricket team and the beginning of a two-decade exile of South African sporting teams.
In 1972, Foley played a pivotal role in establishing the iconic Aboriginal Tent Embassy outside Parliament House in Canberra, shedding light on Aboriginal disadvantage. He also co-founded the Aboriginal Legal Service in Redfern and played a role in forming the Aboriginal Medical Service in Melbourne and Sydney.
Foley’s influence extended internationally when he set up the first Aboriginal Information Centre in London. His activism continued, with protests against the Brisbane Commonwealth Games in 1982 and organising Aboriginal protests against the Australian Bicentenary in 1988. He became a consultant to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
Alongside his activism, Foley made significant contributions to stage, film, and television. He co-wrote and starred in Basically Black, the first Aboriginal stage production in 1972. His film career included roles in Backroads and Dogs in Space.
Foley’s academic pursuits culminated in a PhD from the University of Melbourne in 2013. He has held academic positions at various institutions, including senior curator at Museum Victoria and a professorship at Victoria University, where he continues to educate and inspire the next generation.
Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin is a former professional Australian rules footballer who left an indelible mark on the Australian Football League (AFL). Born on January 30, 1987, in Perth, Western Australia, Franklin’s incredible career spanned almost two decades.
He began his AFL journey with the Hawthorn Football Club in 2005, where his athleticism, strength, and goal-scoring prowess quickly earned him a reputation as one of the game’s most promising forwards. Franklin’s career at Hawthorn was highlighted by two premierships (in 2008 and 2013), four All-Australian selections, and a Coleman Medal, which he won in 2008 with an impressive haul of 113 goals.
In 2014, Franklin made a high-profile move to the Sydney Swans via free agency. Despite battling injuries throughout his career, he continued to excel. He added to his legacy with Sydney, securing two more Coleman Medals (2014 and 2017) and becoming the club’s leading goalkicker for multiple seasons.
Throughout his career, Franklin achieved remarkable milestones, including reaching 1,000 career goals, a feat accomplished by only a select few players in the history of the AFL. His goal-scoring prowess, athleticism, and impact on the field earned him eight All-Australian selections and the captaincy of the All-Australian team in 2018.
Despite facing injuries and challenges, Franklin remained one of the AFL’s most iconic players, thrilling fans with his athleticism and goal-scoring abilities. His contributions to the game, both at Hawthorn and Sydney, solidify his status as one of the greatest players in AFL history.
For more information on Lance Franklin click here.
Archie Roach (Singer)
Archie Roach was a prominent Australian singer-songwriter, Aboriginal activist, and a respected elder of the Gunditjmara, Kirrae Whurrong, and Djab Wurrung communities, as well as the Bundjalung heritage. Known affectionately as “Uncle Archie,” his life was marked by a deep commitment to the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Born in 1956, it wasn’t until 1990 that his career took off with the release of his debut solo album, Charcoal Lane, featuring the song Took the Children Away. This powerful ballad shed light on the Stolen Generations and his own experience, winning critical acclaim and numerous awards. Throughout his three-decade career, Roach toured extensively and shared the stage with music legends like Joan Armatrading, Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg, Tracy Chapman, Suzanne Vega, and Patti Smith.
In addition to his musical achievements, Roach’s advocacy for Indigenous rights was unwavering. He received a Deadly Award for his “Lifetime Contribution to Healing the Stolen Generations” in 2013 and was inducted into the ARIA Music Awards Hall of Fame in 2020. His 2019 memoir, Tell Me Why, and its accompanying album delved into his life, music, and activism.
Born in Mooroopna, Victoria, Roach’s early years were marked by the trauma of the Stolen Generations, which saw him forcibly separated from his family and placed in foster care. He eventually found solace in music and met his wife and musical partner, Ruby Hunter, at a Salvation Army center. Their collaboration led to impactful works like “Kura Tungar – Songs from the River.”
Roach’s legacy extends beyond his music, as he remained a passionate advocate for Indigenous rights and a revered figure within the Australian music scene. His influence and storytelling continue to resonate with audiences and future generations. His death in July 2022 marked the end of a remarkable and enduring career dedicated to social justice and artistic expression.
Ruby Charlotte Margaret Hunter, affectionately known as Aunty Ruby, was a trailblazing singer, songwriter, and guitarist. Born on Goat Island along the Murray River in 1955, she belonged to the Ngarrindjeri, Kokatha, and Pitjantjatjara communities. Hunter’s early life was marked by hardship and separation, as she was among the Stolen Generations, taken from her family and placed in institutions and foster care.
Her life took a transformative turn when she met Archie Roach at age 16, while both were homeless teenagers in Adelaide. Roach inspired Hunter to learn the guitar and create her own music. In 1988, she made her public debut at a festival in Sydney, performing her first composition, Proud, Proud Woman. In 1990, Hunter penned the autobiographical Down City Streets, which Roach recorded on his debut album, Charcoal Lane.
In 1994, Hunter made history as the first Indigenous Australian woman to record a solo rock album, Thoughts Within, launching her career as a performer and songwriter. She continued to tour with Roach, contributing to their collaborative work, including the concert Ruby’s Story. Hunter also starred in the documentary Land of the Little Kings, sharing her childhood experiences as a Stolen Generations survivor.
Throughout her life, Hunter maintained a deep and loving partnership with Roach, raising their two sons and fostering numerous children. Her proudest accomplishment was keeping her family together as a stable unit.
Hunter’s untimely death in 2010 deeply affected the Australian music community. In her memory, Roach established Ruby’s Foundation, dedicated to promoting and supporting Aboriginal arts and culture. She was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame at the 2020 National Indigenous Music Awards. Her legacy lives on through her music, advocacy, and the ongoing efforts to honor her memory, such as the campaign to rename Goat Island as Ruby Hunter Island and the monuments erected in her and Roach’s honor in Barmera.
Vincent Namatjira, born on 14 June 1983 in Alice Springs, Northern Territory, is a prominent artist hailing from the Western Aranda community.
Vincent Namatjira’s winning 2020 Archibald Prize portrait of Adam Goodes ‘Stand strong for who you are’.
His great-grandfather was the renowned watercolour artist Albert Namatjira. Vincent’s early life was marked by hardship when he and his sister were removed from their family and placed in foster homes thousands of kilometers away after the death of their mother. At the age of 18, he embarked on a journey to reconnect with his culture and family.
Vincent began his artistic journey in 2012, initially creating traditional dot paintings before transitioning to portraits, inspired by his wife Natasha and her father, Kunmanara (Jimmy) Pompey, both artists at Iwantja Arts in Indulkana. His work has gained significant recognition since 2012.
His series “Albert’s Story” in 2014 depicted the life of his great-grandfather and reflecting on his legacy. Vincent’s artistic style is characterised by bold and sometimes satirical portrayals of famous and powerful figures, often alongside the artist himself, with a touch of humor.
In 2020, he made history by becoming the first Indigenous Australian to win the prestigious Archibald Prize for his painting “Stand strong for who you are,” a powerful portrait of Adam Goodes. His art has been exhibited internationally and can be found in renowned institutions like the British Museum.
For more information on Vincent Namatjira click here.
Marcia Langton (Academic)
Marcia Langton, a Yiman and Bidjara woman, was born in 1951 and grew up in south-central Queensland and Brisbane.
After attending University of Queensland she worked with several key organisations dealing with Indigenous issues and land claims, including the Central Land Council in Northern Territory, the Northern Territory Aboriginal Issues Unit, the Australian Film Commission, the Queensland Government and the Cape York Land Council.
She was involved with the Socialist Workers Party in the 1970s, and in 1976 founded the Black Women’s Action group with Bobbi Sykes, Sue Chilly and Naomi Mayers, which later became the Roberta Sykes Foundation. It published a monthly community newspaper for Aboriginal people, Koori Bina (meaning black ears). She was also involved in a number of other Black community publications.
From 1995 Langton spent five years as Ranger Professor of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies at Northern Territory University (now Charles Darwin University) in Darwin. In 2012 she became the patron of the Indigenous Reading Project, a charitable organisation that uses digital technology to improve the reading ability of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
Langton, who conducts anthropological work to support land claims by Aboriginal peoples and their negotiations with mining companies and the state, is known for her work in several academic fields, all dealing with Indigenous rights, justice, and culture.
In 2000, she was one of five Indigenous leaders granted an audience with the Queen to discuss an apology and Indigenous recognition in the Australian Constitution.
The federal government appointed her to the Native Title Payments Working Group looking into reform of the Australian native title process in 2008.
For more information about Marcia Langton click here.
Galarrwuy Yunupingu (Land rights campaigner)
Galarrwuy Yunupingu, also known as James Galarrwuy Yunupingu and Dr Yunupingu, was an eminent leader in the Australian community, renowned for his tireless efforts in championing Indigenous rights, particularly in the realm of land rights. Born on June 30, 1948, in Melville Bay near Yirrkala, he belonged to the Gumatj clan of the Yolngu people, hailing from Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.
Yunupingu’s early education began at the Mission School in Yirrkala before he ventured to Brisbane to study at the Methodist Bible College. In 1967, he returned to Gove, where his journey as a prominent Indigenous leader and advocate truly commenced.
He gained national recognition in the 1960s, working alongside his father, Mungurrawuy, to draft the historic Yirrkala bark petitions, a landmark moment in the fight for Indigenous land rights. Yunupingu played a central role in the Gove Land Rights Case, the first legal challenge by Indigenous Australians against mining companies’ encroachment on traditional lands.
Throughout his career, he served as the chairman of the Northern Land Council (NLC) and led negotiations with mining and government bodies, emphasising the importance of fair economic distribution and respect for sacred sites in mining agreements. His advocacy extended to political objectives, culminating in the “Barunga Statement” and the hit song Treaty by the band Yothu Yindi, featuring his brother Mandawuy.
Yunupingu’s work spanned various facets of Indigenous life and rights, making him a revered figure both within Indigenous communities and the broader Australian society. He remained dedicated to the cause until his passing on April 3, 2023, leaving behind a profound legacy as a leader, advocate, and influential Indigenous voice in Australia’s history. His contributions were recognised through numerous awards and honors, including being named Australian of the Year in 1978 and receiving the Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1985.
For more information on Galarrwuy Yunupingu click here.
Evonne Goolagong (Tennis player)
Evonne Goolagong Cawley AC MBE, is one of Australia’s greatest tennis players and the first mother to win a grand slam singles event. She was one of the game’s best players in the 1970s and early 1980s. Hailing from a Wiradjuri family, she was born in 1951, and grew up in the small town of Barellan in New South Wales.
Despite the challenges faced by Aboriginal people during that time, her talent for tennis shone through from a young age. Encouraged by a local resident, Bill Kurtzman, she began her tennis journey, and her potential quickly caught the attention of Vic Edwards, who persuaded her parents to allow her to move to Sydney for training. There, she attended Willoughby Girls High School and excelled in both her education and tennis.
Goolagong’s tennis career is marked by remarkable achievements. She won 14 Grand Slam titles, including seven in singles, four at the Australian Open, two at Wimbledon, and one at the French Open. She reached the finals in an impressive 18 Grand Slam singles tournaments and played in 21 Grand Slam events from 1971 to 1977. Goolagong was recognised as the world No. 1 in women’s tennis in 1976, although this was only officially acknowledged in 2007 due to incomplete ranking data at the time.
Notably, she made seven consecutive finals at the Australian Open, winning three titles in a row. Goolagong was also known for her extraordinary tennis rivalry with legendary players like Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.
Off the tennis court, Goolagong ventured into various pursuits, including endorsing products, participating in senior invitational competitions, and contributing to the development of young Indigenous talent through the Goolagong National Development Camp. She was also appointed captain of the Australian Fed Cup team and received numerous accolades and awards, including being named Australian of the Year in 1971, Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1972, Officer of the Order of Australia in 1982, and Companion of the Order of Australia in 2018.
Goolagong’s influence on and off the tennis court solidify her position as one of Australia’s greatest athletes.
Paul Coe, a passionate Wiradjuri activist, was born in 1949, at Erambie Mission, near Cowra in New South Wales, Australia. He became the first Aboriginal scholar at Cowra High School to pass the Higher School Certificate and elected a school prefect.
He played a significant role in campaigns surrounding the historic 1967 referendum, a pivotal moment in Australian history that advanced Indigenous rights. However, his biggest contribution came in 1972 when he was instrumental in establishing the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. Together with notable activists such as Pearl Gibbs, Chicka Dixon, and Billy Craigie, Coe worked tirelessly to advocate for basic human rights and justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
In 1979, Coe, along with Lyall Munro Jnr and Cecil Patten, represented the NSW Organisation for Aboriginal Unity. They camped outside Parliament House with an Aboriginal bill of rights, seeking federal government recognition of fundamental Indigenous rights.
Moreover, Coe’s impact extended into legal advocacy. He, along with fellow activists like Isabel Coe, Gary Williams, Gary Foley, and Tony Coorey, co-founded the Aboriginal Legal Service in 1970. This was the first free legal assistance service in Australia, providing vital support to Indigenous communities in their pursuit of justice. Coe remained an influential figure in the organisation until the late 1990s.
In 1979 he lost a High Court case where he had sought recognition of Aboriginal rights as the inhabitants of the country before European colonisation.
Miranda Tapsell (Actress)
Miranda Tapsell, a talented Larrakia actress, was born in 1987, in Darwin, Northern Territory. Raised amidst the stunning landscapes surrounding Kakadu National Park, Miranda’s early life was marked by a deep connection to her Indigenous heritage.
At the age of 16, her passion for the arts began to shine as she secured the Bell Shakespeare Company regional performance scholarship. She moved to Sydney to study at the prestigious National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) and graduated in 2008.
Her stage debut came at the Jabiru Wind Festival in 1999, singing with the Jabiru Area School Choir. By 2008 she was playing the title role in the Belvoir Theatre production of Dallas Winmar’s play Yibiyung.
In 2012, she achieved widespread recognition for her role as Cynthia McRae in The Sapphires, a Wayne Blair film that depicted the story of four Indigenous singers during the Vietnam War era. She further demonstrated her versatility with appearances in the ABC’s Redfern Now and the mini-series Mabo.
While her career blossomed in the world of film and television, Miranda continued to shine on the stage. In 2013, she delivered a powerful performance in The Secret River at the Sydney Theatre, earning a Helpmann Award nomination.
As an artist committed to telling compelling stories, Tapsell took on thought-provoking roles like Elizabeth in Vote Yes, a short film that explored issues surrounding the 1967 referendum. She also joined the cast of the Channel 9 drama series Love Child, captivating audiences with her portrayal of Martha Tennant, an unmarried pregnant Indigenous woman.
In 2021, Tapsell co-hosted the live television special Australia’s Biggest Singalong! alongside Julia Zemiro. She contributed to the biographical anthology Growing Up Aboriginal In Australia, and in April 2020, she penned her memoir, Top End Girl.
Tom Dancey, the renowned Aboriginal stockman and boundary rider, etched his name in the annals of Australian sporting history by winning the prestigious Stawell Gift in 1910. Born around 1888 in Hebel, his family relocated to Dirranbandi, where Tom, alongside his brothers, began working on sheep stations.
Dancey’s upbringing and work in the rugged outback honed his skills as a stockman and boundary rider, enhancing his natural athleticism and he excelled as an amateur runner. This combination of athletic prowess and the life-hardened tenacity of a stockman set the stage for his remarkable triumph.
In 1910 Dancey, then aged 22, entered the renowned Stawell Gift in Victoria, the most celebrated footrace in Australia. He took the lead in the last 50m of the race and crossed the line comfortably 4m ahead of the rest of the field.
Dancey’s £1000 prize money, a substantial sum at the time, was claimed by his handlers and hangers-on, leaving him to return home to Dirranbandi with just the silver cup and ribbon presented to him by the state governor.
Dancey died in 1957 and was buried in an unmarked grave, but a plaque for him has since been erected on the site. In 2011 a monument was erected to him in the Dirranbandi Railway Park.
Malarndirri McCarthy is a prominent politician and former journalist. A proud Bundjalung woman, she was born in Katherine, Northern Territory, in 1970, into a family with diverse cultural backgrounds, representing both the Garrwa and Yanyuwa peoples. Her upbringing in Borroloola, near the McArthur River, deeply connected her to her Indigenous heritage. After attending St Scholastica’s College, Sydney, she embarked on a career in journalism, commencing her cadetship in 1989. McCarthy worked as a television and radio reporter, contributing to news and current affairs programs across Australia. Her passion for media extended to community radio, where she founded Borroloola’s first community radio station, B102.9FM – The Voice of the Gulf.
In 2005, McCarthy moved into politics. She was elected to the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly as the Member for Arnhem. During her tenure, she was a strong advocate for her community, crossing the floor to vote against diverting the McArthur River, which had cultural, spiritual, and environmental significance for the local Indigenous people.
Over the years, McCarthy held various ministerial positions in the Northern Territory government, overseeing portfolios related to children and families, child protection, statehood, women’s policy, and more. Her leadership was marked by her commitment to Indigenous rights and cultural preservation.
When she lost the 2012 election, she returned to journalism, earning accolades for her reporting, including a Journalism Story of the Year Deadly Award.
In 2016, McCarthy returned to politics. Following the resignation of Nova Peris, she became the Labor candidate for the Senate in the Northern Territory. She won a Senate seat in the 2016 federal election and continues her advocacy for Indigenous rights and community welfare as an Assistant Minister in the Albanese Government.
For more information on Malarndirri McCarthy click here.
Harold Thomas (Designer/artist)
Harold Thomas, also known as Bundoo, is a prominent artist and the designer of the Aboriginal flag. Born in 1947 in Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Thomas early life was marked by a deep connection to art. He recalls creating drawings and paintings from a very young age. However, at the age of seven, he became a victim of the Stolen Generations, forcibly separated from his family and raised by a foster family in South Australia. Despite this upheaval, Harold continued to pursue his passion for art.
The Aboriginal flag designed by Harold Thomas in. 1970.
In 1966, he won a scholarship to the South Australian School of Art and became the first Indigenous person to graduate from an Australian art school, earning his Honours in 1969. He also became involved in the civil rights movement.
His artistry drew from diverse influences, including celebrated painters like Caravaggio, Francisco Goya, and Eugène Delacroix. His art evolved over the years, with shifts in subject matter and style. In 2016, he transitioned to painting scenes depicting the first contacts between Aboriginal people and European colonisers, including the tragic frontier wars. One of his notable works, ‘Tribal Abduction’, portrayed the harrowing experience of an Aboriginal baby being taken from its mother by the authorities, a poignant reference to his own experience as a member of the Stolen Generations.
He designed the Aboriginal flag in 1970 as a symbol of the Aboriginal land rights movement. It was first raised at a land rights rally in 1971, gaining recognition as a powerful emblem of Indigenous rights. In 1995, the flag was officially declared the “Flag of Australia”.
In 1997, Thomas engaged in a legal battle to assert his copyright over the flag’s design. The legal proceedings concluded with his recognition as the copyright owner according to Australian law. In 2022, Thomas’s copyright over the flag was transferred to the Commonwealth of Australia in a $20 million deal, making it freely accessible for public use.
Anita Heiss AM, a distinguished author, poet, cultural activist, and social commentator, has been a powerful advocate for Indigenous Australian literature and literacy, making significant contributions through her literary works, educational initiatives, and board memberships.
Born in Sydney in 1968, Heiss hails from the Wiradjuri nation in central New South Wales. Her mother, Elsie Williams, who was born in Wiradjuri country at Erambie Mission, Cowra, and her father, Josef Heiss, was born in St Michael, Salzburg, Austria.
Anita’s educational journey led her to St Clare’s College, Waverley, followed by the University of New South Wales, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1989. She furthered her academic pursuits with a doctorate in Communication and Media from the University of Western Sydney in 2000, becoming the first Aboriginal student at the university to achieve this feat.
Throughout her career, Heiss has demonstrated her versatility, authoring a wide array of literary works that span non-fiction, historical fiction, commercial women’s fiction, poetry, social commentary, and travel articles. Her advocacy extends beyond her writing, with roles in academia and various committees and boards.
While her early academic career included roles at the University of Western Sydney and Macquarie University, Heiss ultimately embraced a professorship as the Professor of Communications at the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit at the University of Queensland as of 2021.
Beyond academia, she played pivotal roles in various organisations and initiatives. She was instrumental in the founding of the First Nations Australia Writers Network, held positions on the management committee of the Australian Society of Authors, and served as Communications Adviser for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board of the Australia Council for the Arts. Heiss chaired Gadigal/Koori Radio and became a key witness in the Eatock v Bolt case, a landmark decision in the Federal Court of Australia concerning racial discrimination.
Her commitment to education and Indigenous causes is further reflected in her roles as an ambassador for Indigenous Literacy Day, the Books in Homes program, the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence, and the Worawa Aboriginal College.
Michael Long OAM, was born in 1969 and grew up on the Tiwi Islands. He won dual AFL premierships at Essenden, including a standout performance in the 1993 grand final that earned him the prestigious Norm Smith Medal.
Beyond his athletic achievements, Long is equally celebrated for his impactful activism. In 1995, he played a pivotal role in introducing a racial vilification code in the AFL, marking a significant step in the fight against racism in Australian sports. He was also the driving force behind “The Long Walk,” an AFL tradition that commemorates the Stolen Generations.
Long’s commitment to Indigenous rights recently manifested in his extraordinary 650-kilometer walk from Melbourne to Canberra in 2023. This walk aimed to support the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum.
Long’s achievements were rewarded with the Medal of the Order of Australia in the 2021 Queen’s Birthday Honours, celebrating his exceptional contributions to Australian Rules football and the Indigenous community.
Frederick Prentice was born around 1894 at Powell Creek, Northern Territory, raised by his adoptive parents at the Powell Creek Overland Telegraph Station.
In 1915, with World War I raging, Prentice enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). He served with distinction, first in the 12th Battalion and later in the 1st Pioneer Battalion, earning the Military Medal for his bravery at Mouquet Farm, Pozieres, in 1916, by showing great courage and skill in bringing machine guns and ammunition through the enemy barrage across broken ground in the dark.
Upon his return from the war, Prentice settled in various towns in Western Australia, where he worked as a miner and engaged in the local sporting community, displaying remarkable athleticism in football and cricket.
In the latter part of his life, Prentice’s existence became increasingly solitary and transient. His identity was fragmented, disconnected from both his Aboriginal roots and his adoptive family. In 1957, he passed away in Katherine, Northern Territory, unknown and without family or friends.
To learn more about Frederick Prentice click here.
Lowitja O’Donoghue (Public servant)
Lowitja O’Donoghue Smart, AC CBE DSG, has dedicated her life to public service and advocating for Indigenous rights and well-being. Born in 1932 in the remote Aboriginal community of Indulkana, O’Donoghue is the fifth of six children of Tom and Lily O’Donoghue. Her mixed heritage includes Irish descent from her father and membership in the Pitjantjatjara Aboriginal clan from her mother’s side.
O’Donoghue’s early life was marked by separation from her family when, at the age of two, she and two of her sisters were taken from their mother by missionaries on behalf of South Australia’s Aboriginal Protection Board. They were placed in the care of missionaries, which led to her growing up in various mission homes, including the Colebrook Home in Quorn. Despite the difficult circumstances of her early years, O’Donoghue recalls her time at Colebrook as happy and credits it with providing her a sound education.
She attended Unley High School and subsequently started a career in nursing, first as a nursing aide in Victor Harbor from 1950 to 1953. She later became the first black nurse in South Australia by gaining admission to the Royal Adelaide Hospital, breaking barriers in nursing and paving the way for others.
In 1962, she moved into the public service as an Aboriginal liaison officer with the South Australian Government’s Department of Education. Her career then led her to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, where she worked as a welfare officer, mainly in the north of the state, rising to significant positions in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.
Her public service career also extended to national leadership roles. She served as the chairperson of the Aboriginal Development Commission, making a profound impact on Indigenous welfare policy and representation.
In 1990, O’Donoghue was appointed the inaugural chairperson of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), a position she held until 1996. During her tenure, she became one of the first Aboriginal people to attend a cabinet meeting, using the opportunity to address ATSIC’s stance on the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. She also became the first Aboriginal Australian to address the United Nations General Assembly.
O’Donoghue’s life of dedication and advocacy earned her several honors and recognitions, including being named Australian of the Year in 1984 and receiving appointments as a Member of the Order of Australia (AM), Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), and Companion of the Order of Australia (AC).
In 2010, the Lowitja Institute was established as a national research center for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, named in honor of O’Donoghue. The Institute focuses on research related to Indigenous health, with a mission to empower Indigenous communities and promote cultural safety in healthcare.
For more information on Lowitja O’Donoghue click here.
Julie-Ann Guivarra (Diplomat)
Julie-Ann Guivarra, an Australian diplomat and trailblazer, was born in Cairns. Her heritage includes both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander roots, with a family history that traces back to a Filipino pearl diver who married a Torres Strait Islander woman.
A true pioneer, Guivarra shattered barriers by becoming the first Indigenous Australian to hold a senior executive position within the Australian Foreign Ministry and the first Indigenous woman to represent Australia as an ambassador. From 2018 to 2020, she served as Australia’s Ambassador to Spain, with additional non-resident accreditation to Andorra and Equatorial Guinea, expanding her influence and impact on the global stage.
Guivarra’s educational achievements were equally noteworthy. She was the first in her family to attend university, where she obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce from James Cook University. She earned a Master of Arts in Foreign Affairs and Trade from Monash University.
Her diplomatic career commenced in 1997 when she joined the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Over the years, she held various roles, including assistant secretary and director positions, and she represented Australia in Geneva as a counsellor at the World Trade Organization. Her work extended to India, where she played a pivotal role in trade policy negotiations. Additionally, she served as the Assistant Secretary of the South East Asia Analytical and Effectiveness Branch.
In March 2020, on International Women’s Day, Guivarra assumed the role of Australia’s Ambassador for Gender Equality, a crucial position aimed at making gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls a central focus of Australia’s diplomatic, development, and regional security efforts.
For more information on Julie-Ann Guivarra click here.
Richard Bell (Artist)
Richard Bell, born in 1953 in Charleville, Queensland, is a prominent artist and political activist of Kamilaroi heritage. Bell immersed himself in political activism in the 1970s, participating in movements advocating for Aboriginal self-determination and indigenous rights. His experiences in these causes have profoundly influenced his art.
Bell is a versatile artist, proficient in various media such as paintings, video art, installations, text art, and performance art. His work predominantly explores themes related to Indigenous rights, the impact of colonialism on Aboriginal Australians, the invisibility of their history, issues of identity, and the complexities surrounding the production of Aboriginal art.
In 2003, Bell co-founded proppaNOW, an Indigenous art collective based in Brisbane, along with artists like Jennifer Herd, Vernon Ah Kee, and Fiona Foley. His artwork ‘Scientia E Metaphysica (Bell’s Theorem)’ gained widespread recognition when it won the Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award (NATSIAA) in 2003. This piece, featuring the text “Aboriginal art. It’s a white thing,” challenged inequities within the Aboriginal art industry and became a powerful symbol of protest.
Bell’s work ‘Pay the Rent’, also known as ‘Embassy’, is another notable creation. It is a replica of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, representing the financial debt owed to Aboriginal people by the Australian government. This installation has been displayed in various international exhibitions, including Performa 15 in New York City and the 2019 Venice Biennale. In 2022, it was installed in Kassel, Germany, as part of documenta 15.
Dr Evelyn Scott, a remarkable Indigenous rights activist and champion of social justice, made an enduring impact on the Australian political landscape. Born in Ingham, Queensland, in 1935, her legacy is deeply intertwined with the pursuit of equality and justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Scott’s journey as an advocate began in the 1960s when she actively engaged with the Townsville Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advancement League. Her pivotal role in the historic 1967 referendum, a resounding success with over 90 per cent of voters in favour, led to the removal of discriminatory references from the Australian Constitution. This landmark achievement altered the course of Indigenous rights in Australia.
Guided by the profound words of her father, Evelyn embodied the belief that challenging injustices was the path to change. After the referendum’s success, she became the vice-president of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI). She played a crucial role in reestablishing FCAATSI as an Indigenous-led organisation when it moved to Townsville in 1973.
Evelyn’s commitment to empowering Indigenous Australian women was evident in her involvement with the Cairns and District Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporation for Women and the National Aboriginal and Islander Women’s Council. Her advocacy earned her the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977.
She later chaired the National Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation from 1997 to 2000, leading the Corroboree 2000 Bridge Walk, a historic event with over a quarter of a million participants marching across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in support of a government apology.
Evelyn Scott’s illustrious career included audiences with influential figures like Nelson Mandela, Queen Elizabeth II, and Australian prime ministers. She received honorary doctorates and was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 2003.
Following her passing in 2017, Scott became the first Aboriginal woman to receive a state funeral, honoring her remarkable contributions to reconciliation and social justice. Her enduring message on reconciliation still resonates today: “In true reconciliation, through the remembering, the grieving and the healing, we can come to terms with our conscience and become as one in the dreaming of this land… Will you take our hand? Will you dare to share our dream?”