Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue AC CBE DSG

1 August 1932 – 4 February 2024

It is with deep sadness that Lowitja Institute acknowledges the passing of our patron and namesake, Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue AC CBE DSG, who died peacefully, with her family by her side on 4 February 2024.

Read the Lowitja Institute statement

Read the O’Donoghue Family statement

Read media release

Lowitja O'Donoghue and Pat Anderson AO
Dr Lowitja O'Donoghue AC CBE DSG and Pat Anderson AO

Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue AC CBE DSG

Lowitja Institute was named in honour of its founding patron Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue AC CBE DSG when it was established in January 2010. Dr O’Donoghue’s lifetime contribution to the advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights has produced significant outcomes in health, education, political representation, land rights and reconciliation.

Pat Anderson AO

Pat Anderson AO, an Alyawarre woman and powerful advocate for the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and Indigenous peoples globally, retired as Lowitja Institute chairperson after nearly 20 years in the role, and was honoured as co-patron in 2021.

Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue AC CBE DSG

Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue, a Yankunytjatjara woman, was born in 1932 at De Rose Hill, in the remote northwest corner of South Australia. In 1954, she became the first Aboriginal person to train as a nurse at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, eventually progressing to the position of Charge Sister despite ongoing experiences of racism and remained working there for ten years.

Dr O’Donoghue campaigned for the recognition of Aboriginal peoples in the 1967 Referendum, and later joined the South Australian branch of the Federal Office of Aboriginal Affairs. From 1970–1972, she was a member of the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement and was soon appointed to the position of Regional Director of the SA Department of Aboriginal Affairs, making her responsible for the local implementation of national Aboriginal welfare policy. In 1977 Dr O’Donoghue was appointed the founding Chairperson of the National Aboriginal Conference.

Building on her passion and growing expertise, she continued to take on senior leadership roles and positions among prominent agencies in Aboriginal affairs. In March 1990, Dr O’Donoghue was appointed the inaugural Chairperson of ATSIC – the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission – and won universal admiration for her leadership, tenacity, and integrity. A highlight was her pivotal role in the tense and complex negotiations that enabled the creation and passing of Prime Minister Keating’s Native Title legislation that rose from the High Court’s historic Mabo decision. In 1992, Dr O’Donoghue was the first Aboriginal person to address the United Nations General Assembly, during the launch of the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Peoples.

When Dr O’Donoghue stepped down as Chair of ATSIC in 1996, she became the inaugural Chair of the Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal and Tropical Health (1996–2003), which led to the CRC for Aboriginal Health (2003–2009), the CRC for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, and the Lowitja Institute Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health CRC (2014–2019). Lowitja Institute was established in January 2010, and became a cooperative research centre (CRC). 

Dr O’Donoghue was 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; a Papal honour from Pope John Paul II and investiture as a Dame of the Order of St. Gregory the Great in 2006, and the NAIDOC Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. She was also invested as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1983, a Companion of the Order of Australia in 1999, and received an extraordinary list of honorary doctorates from universities around Australia (most recently from the University of Adelaide in 2021).

Dr O’Donoghue retired from public life in 2008, and celebrated her 91st birthday in 2023.

Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue AC CBE DSG, Yankunytjatjara woman, died aged 91 on 4 February 2024.

Read more about Dr O’Donoghue’s life and achievements

Visit the Lowitja O’Donoghue Foundation website

Pat Anderson AO

Ms Pat Anderson AO is an Alyawarre woman who is known nationally and internationally as a powerful advocate for the rights, health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Having grown up on a camp outside Darwin in the 1950s, Pat has led national and international efforts to achieve justice for First Nations people as well as key health organisations including the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) and the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory.

With an extensive career spanning community development, service delivery, policy formation, and research ethics, Pat was instrumental in the founding and development of Lowitja Institute, Australia’s national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community controlled health research institute. She was its long-standing chair for almost two decades, and is now co-patron, alongside our namesake Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue.

Pat was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 2014 for distinguished service to the Indigenous community as a social justice advocate, particularly through promoting improved health, and educational and protection outcomes for children.

She co-chaired the inquiry which resulted in the 2007 Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle: Little Children are Sacred report on the protection of Aboriginal children from sexual abuse.

In 2018, the national NAIDOC Committee recognised Pat’s long-standing contribution with the Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2021 she was awarded the ACT Senior Australian of the Year.

Pat was Co-Chair of the Prime Minister’s Referendum Council and an architect of the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart, and its calls for Voice, Treaty and Truth.

Professor Megan Davis, Pat Anderson and Noel Pearson with Uluru Statement from the Heart

Watch videos featuring our patrons

Read their speeches

Acknowledgement of Country

We acknowledge the traditional owners of the land across Australia and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, voices and names of deceased persons.