Warning: Indigenous Australians are advised that this article may contain images and names of deceased Australian Indigenous persons.
This article was written on the land of the Yalukit-Willam peoples. I would like to acknowledge that I am a guest on the land that I live and work on and would like to pay my respects to Indigenous elders past, present and future.
The Indigenous Australian culture is the oldest surviving culture on Earth made up of over 250 different language groups each with their own distinct cultures, customs, and traditions. It is estimated to be around 60 000 years old; however, recent evidence suggests that it could be hundreds of thousands of years old.
This extensive history of Indigenous women and men has seen many Australian Indigenous women over the centuries who have absolutely trail blazed the way for many current younger and future generations of the First Nations Peoples. Indigenous women have played a vital role in shaping Australia – fighting for equal rights, education, social justice, health care and representing Indigenous Australia in an array of careers and backgrounds.
While there is an endless amount of Australian Indigenous women that are inspiring in all walks of life; here are 10 Indigenous women that have made incredible change through careers, athletics, activism, and art.
Miranda Tapsell is the first of our inspiring Indigenous women and belongs to the Larrakia tribe. Tapsell is an actor and activist, best known for her role in The Sapphires. In 2015, Tapsell won a Logie for her role in Love Child and used her acceptance speech to acknowledge the lack of people of colour in modern television.
Alice Skye is a Wergaia woman and an Australian singer/songwriter. At just 22 years of age, Skye has released a debut album, Friends With Feelings, and has toured nationally. Alice Skye is also a fiercely passionate activist for Indigenous issues and rights. Check out her music here!
Marcia Langton is another of our inspiring Indigenous women and a descendant of the Yiman and Bijara nations. Langton is an anthropologist, geographer, and the chairwoman of Australian Indigenous studies at the University of Melbourne. She is also an influential advocate for Indigenous rights across her community and the political spectrum. Marcia Langton is also a successful author and has been awarded an Order of Australia.
Latoya Rule is a Wiradjuri woman and has been an extremely determined activist in regards to Aboriginal deaths in custody. In 2016 Rule’s brother, Wayne “Fella” Morrison, was left brain dead by two guards at the Yatala Labour Prison. Since then Latoya Rule has become a prominent voice in the fight for justice.
The youngest of these inspiring Indigenous women is 18-year-old Aretha Brown. Brown is a proud Gumbaynggirr woman who is an activist, an artist, and used to be the Prime Minister of the National Indigenous Youth Parliament. Brown was an Australian State Representative acknowledging Aboriginal servicemen at the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli, at the age of 16 she addressed 50 000 protesters at an Invasion Day rally, she has been on radio and TV, appeared in a documentary and was in Sportsgirl’s Be That Girl campaign.
Gladys Elphick was a Kaurna and Ngadjuri woman who is best known for being the founding president of the Council of Aboriginal Women of South Australia, now known as the Aboriginal Council of South Australia. She was a major advocate for Indigenous adult education and helped organise evening classes and programs that led to the establishment of the college of Aboriginal Education.
Joyce Clague is a Yaegl elder, and an Australian political activist. She has been an activist for social change for Indigenous Australians for many years and was extremely important in instigating the 1967 Constitutional Referendum and the 1996 Native Title claim.
She started the Federation Council for Advancement of Aborigines, was appointed as a representative of the World Churches Commission to Combat Racism, was elected as Northern Territories state secretary, and was a founding member of the NSW Women’s Advisory Council to the Premier, among many other admirable achievements.
Faith Thomas is an Adnyamathanha woman and a leading role model within the sports industry. She was not only the first Indigenous Australian woman to professionally play international cricket but was also the first of many Indigenous women to represent Australia in any kind of sport. Faith Thomas was also the first Indigenous nurse to graduate from the Royal Adelaide Hospital and the first to run a hospital.
Nova Peris belongs to the Kiga, Yawuru, and Muran tribes and is an Australian athlete and politician. She was the first Indigenous Australian to win an Olympic Gold Medal in 1996 for women’s hockey, and also competed at the Commonwealth Games in 1998 and the Olympic Games in 2000. Nova Peris then became the first Indigenous woman to be elected for parliament where she was an advocate for egalitarianism and ending racism.
She has helped to deliver over 100 health and education checks across Australian communities and established the Nova Peris Girls Academy to help keep young Indigenous women focused on school. Nova Peris was named 1997 Young Australian of the Year.
Charlotte Allingham is the final on this list of inspiring Indigenous women. She is a young Wiradjuri woman who is best known for her work in digital design and illustration. She is an artist and utilises her artwork to explore culture and identity. Her artwork often reflects the issues most affecting young Indigenous women as well as all Indigenous peoples.
Charlotte Allingham not only uses her artwork to explore her heritage but to also protest and raise awareness on Indigenous issues. Check out her artwork here!