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2021 - Highly commended
Lowitja O’Donoghue was born in 1932 to a Pitjantjatjara mother and an Irish father in remote South Australia. At two, under the auspices of the Aboriginal Protection Board, she was placed in a children’s home. Initially refused entry to the Royal Adelaide Hospital to continue her nursing studies, in 1954 she became the hospital’s first Aboriginal trainee, thus beginning her lifelong advocacy for Aboriginal rights. After joining the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in the mid-1960s, and becoming an early member of the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement, in March 1990 she became founding Chairperson of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), playing a role in drafting the Native Title legislation arising from the Mabo decision. In later years she devoted herself to a variety of Aboriginal health organisations.
Now aged over 80, Lowitja has entrusted to Stuart Rintoul, a long-time friend and associate, a story of truly national significance. The most prominent Aboriginal member of the public service to have emerged in Australia, she achieved this in an era when such was all but impossible for a woman. In this authorised biography, Rintoul also leads us in lucid journalistic style through an exploration of Lowitja’s paternal Irish antecedents and the historical circumstances of mixed race children being removed into the care of missionaries.