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Legacy of Indigenous rights trailblazer to be honoured

Hundreds of mourners are expected to mark the loss of Aboriginal rights trailblazer Lowitja O'Donoghue at a state funeral in Adelaide.

The Yankunytjatjara woman, who played a key role in the 1967 referendum, lobbied the Keating government to recognise Indigenous land ownership through native title laws and advised on the apology to the stolen generation, will be remembered at a ceremony at St Peter's Cathedral on Friday.

She died on February 4 aged 91 on Kaurna Country in Adelaide with her immediate family by her side.

In announcing the state funeral, South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas said Dr O'Donoghue "leaves a legacy of strong advocacy, passion and dedication".

She gained prominence after becoming the first Aboriginal person to train as a nurse at Royal Adelaide Hospital in 1954.

After being denied the opportunity because of her Indigenous heritage, she successfully lobbied then-premier Thomas Playford to win her right to admission, setting her on a lifelong path of fighting for equality.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese described her as one of the most remarkable leaders the country had known.

"Dr O'Donoghue had an abiding faith in the possibility of a more united and reconciled Australia," he said.

She was a member of the stolen generation, taken from her mother at two and put in a children's home.

In the 1960s, she joined Aboriginal rights groups in South Australia before working as a nurse and welfare officer for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in the same state.

She campaigned for the 1967 referendum that changed the constitution to count Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the population and make laws for them.

Dr O'Donoghue continued her advocacy and was later made a member of the Order of Australia in 1977.

She was the founding chairperson of the National Aboriginal Conference, and in 1984 was named Australian of the Year.

Dr O'Donoghue became the inaugural chairperson of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission in 1990.

One of her greatest achievements was lobbying the Keating government to recognise Aboriginal land ownership through the Native Title Act.

Another was advising prime minister Kevin Rudd on the apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, particularly the stolen generation, in 2008.

The non-profit Lowitja O'Donoghue Foundation was set up in 2022 to continue her legacy.

Her family has asked mourners to donate to the foundation in lieu of flowers.

Jacob Shteyman and Neve Brissenden - AAP


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