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Albert Namatjira © Flickr / Leonid Ll
Albert Namatjira © Flickr / Leonid Ll

The 10 Most Influential Indigenous Australians

Picture of Alice Duffield
Updated: 5 January 2018

The Indigenous cultures in Australia have been around for more than 60,000 years, making them among the oldest living cultures on the planet. With such a long history, it’s not surprising that so many influential, inspiring and incredible Australians have Indigenous roots.

Here are just 10 of the many Indigenous Australians who have had an incredible impact on their communities, the country and the world.

Neville Bonner

Although he only had a third-grade education, Neville Bonner quickly rose to a leadership position in the community and eventually became the first Indigenous member of Australia’s Parliament. After leaving the Australian Senate in 1983, Neville continued to advocate for Indigenous rights until his death in 1999.

Albert Namatjira

A celebrated watercolour artist, Albert Namatjira dedicated much of his life to raising awareness of the social injustices imposed on Indigenous communities. He was also the first Indigenous person to be granted Australian citizenship.

Oodgeroo Noonuccal

In addition to her bestselling book of verse We Are Going and many literary awards, poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal is revered for her key role in the campaign to ensure Indigenous people were granted full citizenship in Australia.

Adam Goodes

An Adnyamathanha man, Adam Goodes is best known for his award-winning and premiership-winning antics on the AFL field. However, it’s his community work, including a commitment to helping Indigenous youths in detention centres, for which he was recently named Australian of the Year.

David Unaipon

After working as a servant, bootmaker, bookmaker and bookkeeper, in 1909, David Unaipon drew upon his passion for science to develop an entirely new shearing device. This and other inventions — including a helicopter rotor inspired by the boomerang — earned him the nickname the ‘Australian Leonardo da Vinci’.

Samantha Harris

Samantha Harris was thrust into the limelight when she won the ‘Girlfriend Covergirl’ competition at age 11. She quickly became one of the nation’s top models, working alongside Miranda Kerr and Megan Gale. As a member of the Dunghutti tribe, Samantha Harris has become a role model for Aboriginal children, and she works with organisations like the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence.

Melbourne tonight For @sunglasshut summer party 🙌🏽 #madeforsummer

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Eddie Mabo

A Meriam man from the Torres Strait Islands, Eddie Koiki Mabo is remembered for his efforts to secure Indigenous land rights. He led a 10-year battle through the Australian legal system, but sadly, passed away just months before the courts ruled in his favour in 1992 — paving the way for the Native Title Act.

Tanya Orman

Starting her career as a journalist and producer, Tanya Orman is now the channel manager for National Indigenous Television (NITV), a popular television station focused on Indigenous programming. As well as being one of the youngest TV executives in Australia, Tanya Orman chairs an organisation that leads the media industry on reconciliation issues.

Bronwyn Bancroft

A Bundjalung woman, artist and fashion designer, Bronwyn Bancroft is revered as the first Australian to have fashion designs shown in Paris. She is a founding member of Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative, an organisation that has helped hundreds of Indigenous artists pursue successful careers in the arts.

COMING SOON: Transitions by Bronwyn Bancroft.⠀ ⠀ Over the past 30 years Bronwyn Bancroft has had a diverse artistic practice including public art commissions, imagery design for private commission, and both authoring and illustrating children's books. However first and foremost, Bronwyn creates her own signature style of contemporary artwork which continues to be exhibited nationally and internationally.⠀ ⠀ Bronwyn is heavily involved in the pursuit of advancing Aboriginal Health and Education as well as protecting the rights of Aboriginal people. She currently serves on the boards of Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative, the Copyright Agency Ltd (CAL) and the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME). ⠀ ⠀ We are so pleased to welcome Bronwyn to the Nissarana family. ⠀

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Lowitja O’Donoghue CBE AO

Having worked as a nursing aide since her teens, Lowitja O’Donoghue was shocked to learn that her application to train at Royal Adelaide Hospital was refused on the basis of her heritage. She fought to have the decision overturned and became the first Aboriginal person to train as a nurse at the hospital. She later joined the public service and, in 1975, became the first woman to be a regional director of a federal department. She continues to champion many health, welfare and social justice causes.

Vincent Lingiari

In 1966, Vincent Lingiari led 200 Indigenous stockmen on a peaceful protest to secure fair pay and decent working conditions — a mission that would last nine years. His tireless efforts to secure rights for Indigenous people were immortalised by Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody in the modern classic song, ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’.