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Clif Peir Kath Walker

oil on canvas

91.3 x 71.4 cm

Image courtesy National Portrait Gallery, Canberra. Photo: Mark Mohell

The subject of this portrait by Clif Peir is poet, environmentalist and activist Oodgeroo Noonuccal (1920-1993), also known as Kathleen Jean Mary Ruska and Kath Walker. The work is now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, with the title Kath Walker (Oodgeroo Noonuccal).

Aunty Oodgeroo was born on Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island). Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, she campaigned for equal citizenship rights for Aboriginal people. She became the first published Aboriginal poet with her 1964 book We are going, dubbed a ‘battle cry’ against social injustice.

While working as a Sydney County Council designer, Peir studied part time at the Julian Ashton Art School with artists Joshua Smith and Eric Wilson, and exhibited extensively. His interest in drama led him to stage design, with his portraits possessing a theatrical quality. From 1950, Peir travelled extensively in Central Australia, the Northern Territory and Flinders Ranges in South Australia and painted Aboriginal peoples and desert landscapes.

This portrait was painted at the artist’s family home in Oatley, where Aunty Oodgeroo stayed on her visits to Sydney.