Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue AC CBE DSG

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Please Note: Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this article contains images and names of deceased persons.

Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue lived a remarkable life, breaking new ground and impacting the lives and communities she connected with.

A Yankunytjatjara women, Lowitja was born in the APY lands. At the age of two, Lowitja was taken to Colebrook Children’s Home at Quorn in the Flinders Ranges, South Australia, and at age eleven was moved to the new Colebrook Home at Eden Hills in Adelaide.

Lowitja did not see her mother for another 30 years. After finishing school at Unley Girls Technical High School, Lowitja commenced training as a nursing aide at South Coast District Hospital in Victor Harbor and then in 1953 began training at the Royal Adelaide Hospital as the first Aboriginal trainee nurse.

Throughout this time, Lowitja developed her faith as part of a Baptist home fellowship in Victor Harbor and then as member of Unley Park Baptist from 1955-1975.

Her faith journey led her to apply to the Australian Baptist Missionary Society (now Baptist Mission Australia). In 1962, she was commissioned, becoming the first Aboriginal person sent overseas on mission.

She was posted to the hospital in Tukrajhar, Assam, India but later evacuated due to unrest in the region.

Upon her return to Adelaide, Lowitja committed her life to her people. Working with determination, she courageously led change in South Australia and across the Commonwealth.

Among many other contributions and acknowledgements, Lowitja was part of the successful campaign for recognition at the 1967 referendum, she was the inaugural chairperson for ATSIC.

In 1991, she was the first Aboriginal person to address the United Nations General Assembly, and was widely commended for her leadership in spearheading the negotiations for the Native Title Act passed in 1993. She was an advisor to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for the National Apology made in 2008, and she served as chairperson or patron for many other significant committees and organisations in our Australian story.

Lowitja was a woman who led with tenacity, integrity and faith. She was involved in a number of our Baptist churches across her lifetime including Unley Park, Parkside, Flinders Street, Broadview, Aboriginal Berean Community and Westcare.

She leaves a significant legacy across our wider movement, not least our Assembly’s apology statement made to Indigenous Australians in 2000, which she was instrumental in developing.

With Baptist Care SA, she became Patron of WestCare centre and advocated for The Sanctuary in the City, Karpandi drop-in centre, and the art centre, as well as advising more broadly on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander matters.

Lowitja’s journey of faith was not always easy as some of her strongest critics were Christian churches and Christian people. In later years, her faith was revitalised and she sought connection with a number of people from our Baptist movement who regularly visited and prayed with Lowitja.

We celebrate and give thanks to God for the life of Dr Aunty Lowitja O’Donoghue. May we be inspired by her faith and legacy to carry on the important work of reconciliation and service to our communities.

Photo: Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue. Photo credit and release: Lowitja Institute


1976 Member of the Order of Australia

1983 Commander of the Order of the British Empire

1984 Australian of the Year

1998 National Living Treasure

1999 Companion of the Order of Australia

2000 Olympic torch bearer number 11 carrying the flame through Anangu country

2006 Dame of the Order of St Gregory the Great

2006 Papal Honour from Pope John Paul II

2009 NAIDOC Lifetime Achievement Award

Honorary doctorates and fellowships from 12 universities and colleges, and many more awards and honours.

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