Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker)
Oodgeroo Noonuccal was born Kathleen Ruska in 1920 on North Stradbroke Island. In 1933, at 13, she left school and went to work as a domestic servant on the mainland to support her family.
Kath enlisted in the Australian Women’s Army Service in 1942 after her two brothers were captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore. Her service in the Army gave her access to training and educational opportunities. Kath trained as an Army signaller in Brisbane and was promoted to Corporal. She made many friends, including non-Indigenous Australians and African-American soldiers, who were serving in segregated units stationed in the area.
Kath left the Army in December 1942 because of a persistent middle ear infection which made her unable to perform her job. After leaving the Army, her previous positive experiences highlighted the discrimination she then faced as a civilian. This led Kath to become a fervent advocate for Aboriginal rights.
The bicentenary of white settlement in Australia in 1988 frustrated Kath because of the slow progress of Aboriginal rights. She returned the MBE she received in 1970 for services to Aboriginal people and changed her name to Oodgeroo Noonuccal in recognition of her Noonuccal ancestors.