Oodgeroo Noonuccal was born Kathleen Jean Mary Ruska on the 3rd of November 1920, a descendant of the Noonuccal people of Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island). During her lifetime she was, and continues to be, recognised as one of Australia’s leading literary figures, who used her pen to give voice to the Indigenous struggle for rights and justice. In 1962, she was instrumental in advocating for citizenship rights for Indigenous people as Secretary of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI), work that gave rise to the 1967 referendum.
Oodgeroo received numerous awards, such as the Mary Gilmore medal (1970), the Jessie Litchfield Award (1975), the International Acting Award and the Fellowship of Australian Writers Award. In 1970 she was appointed as a Member of the Order of the British Empire (Civil) for services to the community, but returned it in protest over the bicentenary celebrations held in 1988.
In 1972, she withdrew from active involvement in political organisations to live in semi-retirement on a leasehold property, Moongalba (‘sitting-down place’), on Minjerribah, establishing the Noonuccal-Nughie Education and Cultural Centre, where she regularly conducted programs for groups of school students and visitors.
In recognition of a lifetime commitment to Indigenous peoples and her outstanding contributions to Australian literature Oodgeroo Noonuccal was awarded three honorary doctorates by Universities within Australia.
Two honorary doctorate awards were conferred on her for her contribution to Australian literature: a Doctorate of Letters from Macquarie University and a Doctor of the University from Griffith University.
In 1992 Oodgeroo Noonuccal received an honorary Doctorate from the Faculty of Education Queensland University of Technology for both her contribution to literature and in recognition of her work in the field of education.
In recognition of her profound contribution to Australian History, the QUT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Support Unit was named the Oodgeroo Unit in 2006.