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Famous Indigenous Australians

Many of Australia's Indigenous people have worked hard and achieved local and international fame for their achievements. These achievements have been in many different fields, including the arts, politics and sports. Below are just a few of the inspirational Indigenous people who have accomplished great personal achievements as well as great cultural achievements for their fellow Indigenous peoples.

Cathy Freeman

Cathy Freeman is one of the most well-known Indigenous Australians. Her skills and achievements as a runner have been seen by people all over the world as she has competed in multiple Olympic Games.

Freeman is a descendant of the Kuku Yalanji people and was born in Mackay, Queensland in 1973. Her greatest achievement was being the first Aboriginal person to win an Olympic gold medal in an individual event (400 metres sprint). Freeman was further honoured by being given a vital role at the Sydney Olympics (2000), which was the lighting of the Olympic flame during the opening ceremony.

Albert Namatjira

Albert Namatjira was the first Indigenous person to become an internationally renowned artist. He was born in 1902 near Alice Springs and always enjoying painting whilst he was growing up. It was not until 1934 (aged 32 years old) that he began to paint seriously. A man named Rex Battarbee taught Namatjira a lot about the skill of painting, and Namatjira showed Rex some of the best places to paint in Australia. Namatjira's art was very different to traditional Indigenous art.

Namatjira's first exhibition went on show in 1936 in Melbourne, where his paintings sold out. His success continued and his paintings became very valuable. Although he had become very successful and made a great deal of money, Namatjira still had to follow the strict laws placed on Indigenous people during that time. He was not allowed to buy a home or any land, and could not rent a property.

In 1957, Namatjira became the first Indigenous person to become an Australian citizen. His art and his life made governments aware of how Indigenous people were being treated in Australia during that period. He died in 1959.

Noel Pearson

Noel Pearson is a well know and respected Indigenous activist who has done a great deal for the rights of Indigenous Australians. Born in Cooktown, Pearson then grew up in a Lutheran mission Hope Vale.

Pearson was involved in the establishment of many Indigenous organisations on the Cape York Peninsula (health councils, development corporations). All of the organisations Pearson has been involved in have been designed to help the Indigenous people of Cape York.

Kath Walker (Oodgeroo Nooncal)

Kath Walker, whose Indigenous name was Oodgeroo Nooncal, was Australia's first Indigenous poet to gain recognition from around the world. Walker was born in 1920 and began writing poetry from an early age. She grew up on North Stradbroke Island, which became to inspiration for much of her poetry.

Walker finally had her poetry published when she was in her forties. She was also a strong advocate for Indigenous rights. During the 1960s, Walker began campaigning for equality. She travelled the world fighting for the rights of Australia's Indigenous people. She died in 1993.

Neville Bonner

Neville Bonner was Australia's first Indigenous politician. He then became a senator for Queensland and served for twelve years (1971-1983). He was also the first Indigenous person to sit in federal parliament.

A central focus to his work as a politician involved improving the conditions of his fellow Indigenous people. Bonner helped change the face of Indigenous rights in Australia. He was an honest man who never let anger dominate his work.

Pat O'Shane (NSW Magistrate)

Pat O'Shane was born in 1941 near Cairns. She is a descendant of the Yalangi Indigenous people. O'Shane was the fist Aboriginal teacher in Queensland and then years later, in 1982, she became the first female head of a state government department. In 1987 she achieved another first by becoming the first Indigenous Australian to become a magistrate in the New South Wales courts.

Other famous Indigenous people

There are many other well known Indigenous people who have achieved many things in their chosen careers. Some of these other popular people include:

  • Ernie Dingo, one of the first recognisable Indigenous television personalities;
  • Adam Goodes, a well known AFL player and winner of the Brownlow medal;
  • David Gulpilil, the first Indigenous person to star in films. His Films include Storm Boy, The Last Wave, Crocodile Dundee, Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Tracker and Ten Canoes; and
  • Yvonne Goolagong-Cawley, winner of seven tennis grand slams and first Indigenous person to win Wimbledon.


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