Sorry Business – the Passing of Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue

5 February, 2024

NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) and the Land Rights network mourn the passing of Aboriginal rights warrior, Dr. Lowitja O’Donoghue.

The Yankunytjatjara leader passed away at the age of 91 on Kaurna Country in Adelaide, South Australia. Dr. O’Donoghue devoted her life to health, education, land rights, her culture, and her people.

In 1954, she became the first Aboriginal person to train as a nurse at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. After nursing, Dr. O’Donoghue also held positions as the Regional Director of the SA Department of Aboriginal Affairs and founding Chairperson of the National Aboriginal Conference in 1977.

In 1990, Dr. O’Donoghue was appointed the inaugural Chairperson of ATSIC – the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. The ‘Lowitja Institute,’ named in honour of Dr O’Donoghue, was established in January 2010 and is an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled health research institute.

Dr. O’Donoghue has been awarded numerous honours in recognition of her contribution to promoting Aboriginal rights, including Membership of the Order of Australia in 1977 (the first Aboriginal woman to become so); Australian of the Year in 1984, Australian National Living Treasure in 1998 and the NAIDOC Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.

NSWALC CEO Yuseph Deen says Dr. O’Donoghue was a visionary leader highly respected across Australia and internationally.

“Dr. Lowitja leaves a huge legacy for her unwavering commitment to Aboriginal empowerment. She was a remarkable and influential leader; her legacy will forever live on.”

“On behalf of the NSW Land Rights Network, I extend my deepest condolences to Dr. O’Donoghue’s family and her many friends at this very sad time.” he said.


We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners of the lands where we work as well as across the lands we travel through. We also acknowledge our Elders past, present and emerging.

Artwork Credit: Craig Cromelin, from a painting he did titled, "4 favourite fishing holes". It is a snippet of his growing years on the Lachlan River, featuring yabby, turtle, fish and family.