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Video clip synopsis – Aboriginal leader and founding chairperson of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, Lowitja O’Donoghue has worked tirelessly for her people.
Year of production - 1994
Duration - 1min 15sec
Tags - assimilation, Australian History, civics and citizenship, discrimination, human rights, identity, Indigenous Australia, inequality, racism, self-determination, social justice, Stolen Generations, White Australia Policy, see all tags


Lowitja O'Donoghue - Reunion

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About the Video Clip


Lowitja O’Donoghue:Reunion is an excerpt from the program Lowitja O’Donoghue (26 mins), an episode of Australian Biography Series 3 (7×26 mins), produced in 1994.

Lowitja O’Donoghue: Lois O’Donoghue was born in 1932 in a remote Aboriginal community. She never knew her white father and, at the age of two, was taken away from her mother, who she was not to see for 33 years. After a long struggle to win admission to a training hospital, Lois became the first black nurse in South Australia. In 1976, she was the first Aboriginal woman to be awarded an Order of Australia. In 1983 she was honoured with a CBE and in 1984 she was made Australian of the Year. In 1990 she became the founding chairperson of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. Since this Australian Biography interview, she has changed her name to Lowitja O’Donoghue.

Australian Biography Series 3: The Australian Biography series profiles some of the most extraordinary Australians of our time. Many have had a major impact on the nation’s cultural, political and social life. All are remarkable and inspiring people who have reached a stage in their lives where they can look back and reflect. Through revealing in-depth interviews, they share their stories – of beginnings and challenges, landmarks and turning points. In so doing, they provide us with an invaluable archival record and a unique perspective on the roads we, as a country, have travelled.

Australian Biography Series 3 is a Film Australia National Interest Program.

Background Information


In 1967 a national referendum to change the Constitution was held. There were two main changes requested. First, that Indigenous people be included in future national censuses. Secondly, that the federal government be granted powers to legislate for Indigenous people.
Almost 91% of voters accepted these changes. The federal government had campaigned for a “Yes” vote on the basis that the entire parliament was in favour of the changes, while others pressed for a “Yes” vote, arguing that the changes would present the image of a non-racist country in the eyes of the rest of the world.

Indigenous protest and lobbying now developed a stronger and more politically potent agenda. Amongst other things, they called for land rights, cultural heritage rights and recognition of the disadvantage experienced from colonisation – including the separation of children from their families. From the 1970s, governments gradually moved away from promoting assimilation and towards policies of self-determination and participation.

Lowitja O’Donoghue has played a pivotal role in the reconciliation process. Reconciliation involves acknowledging past treatment of Indigenous Australians, the contribution such treatment has made to current conditions for Indigenous Australians and 'moving forward’ to address these conditions. Speaking about possible feelings of resentment over past treatment by non-Indigenous Australia, Lowitja says, 'I don’t think it’s a very healthy feeling to have because… [it] stands in the way of moving forward.’

In 1992 federal parliament established the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (CAR). The official aims of CAR included:
• building a united Australia, which respects the land
• valuing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage
• providing justice and equity for all Australians.
It was formed with a two-year brief to advance the process of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

CAR concluded its activities in December 2000 when it released two important documents: the Australian Declaration Towards Reconciliation and the Roadmap for Reconciliation. One of CAR’s concluding recommendations was that the government initiate a process to unite Australians through a formal agreement or treaty. This recommendation, and others, have not been accepted by the Australian government.

At the time it concluded its final deliberations in 2000, CAR established an independent organisation called Reconciliation Australia, the peak national organisation building and promoting reconciliation between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians for the wellbeing of the nation. Its vision statement includes the following important goals:
• achieving social and economic equity for Indigenous Australians
• acknowledging the past and building a framework for a shared future.

Today Reconciliation Australia’s stated ambition is that: “As a non-profit, independent organisation, we seek to eliminate the glaring gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children. That the life of an Indigenous child is likely to end 17 years earlier than a non-Indigenous child’s is not acceptable in an affluent country like ours. All the work we do with our project partners is dedicated to narrowing that gap.”

Classroom Activities

  1. After viewing the video about Lowitja O’Donoghue – Reunion, discuss in class then write answers to the following:
    1. Describe the circumstances in Cooper Pedy that led to Lowitja finding her mother after more than 30 years.
    2. Explain how Lowitja’s mother knew her daughter was coming to visit her, and how she prepared for this event.
    3. Why does Lowitja cry on camera?
    4. In what way(s) does this video clip personalise and intensify the general issue of the Stolen Generations for us as viewers?
  2. Take the image of Lowitja’s mother waiting on the road every day for three months, and develop a short story from it, in 400–700 words. You may first have to discuss in class the range of possibilities for character, theme, setting, story events and the style in which you could approach the telling of the story.
  3. In pairs research Lowitja O’Donoghue’s biography then prepare an illustrated magazine-style two-page spread about her role and significance as a campaigner for the cause of Australian Indigenous rights. Use desktop publishing software.
  4. In small groups research the ways in which Indigenous populations have been affected by the policies of European colonisers in one other country, such as New Zealand, Canada, the USA, East Timor, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico. Each group should select a different country. Do any of these countries have a “Stolen Generations” issue comparable to that of Australia’s? In comparison to Australia, have these countries formulated treaties, apology statements, compensation, land rights legislation, reconciliation movements, or general school education programs in Indigenous culture and language etc? Each student should contribute to a written and oral group report. This may include a poster display if considered desirable.

Further Resources


Jane Harrison, Stolen, Currency Press, Sydney, 1998
Darlene Johnson (dir), Stolen Generations, 2000
Phillip Noyce (dir), Rabbit-Proof Fence, 2002
Doris Pilkington (Nugi Garimara), Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1996
Des Kootji Raymond (dir), Land of the Little Kings, 2000
Go to Australian Biography Online Lowitja O’Donoghue
Go to Reconciliation Australia
Go to Lowitja O’Donoghue
Go to Bringing Them Home