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Kath Walker, Aboriginal Poet
, 1965

by Clif Peir

oil on canvas (support: 91.3 x 71.4 cm, frame: 104.0 x 83.5 cm)

Kath Walker (Oodgeroo Noonuccal) (1920–1993) was an Aboriginal activist, poet and writer. Her 1964 book of verse, We Are Going, was the first to be published by an Aboriginal person. Her poems along with short stories, essays and speeches were gathered in My People: A Kath Walker Collection (1970). During the 1980s she wrote several children’s books and in the 1990s she provided stories and verse for the illustrated volumes Australian Legends and Landscapes and Australia’s Unwritten History. Through her work, which she described as ‘sloganistic, civil rightish, plain and simple’, she aimed to promote cultural pride amongst Indigenous people. She became State secretary of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders in 1961, and campaigned successfully for the abolition of Section 52 of the Australian Constitution in 1967. In the 1970s she was chairperson of the National Tribal Council, the Aboriginal Arts Board, the Aboriginal Housing Committee and the Queensland Aboriginal Advancement League. In 1978–79 she toured the United States on a Fulbright scholarship, and was later awarded honorary doctorates by two Australian universities. Walker reassumed her tribal name in 1988 in protest at the Bicentennial celebrations. The same year, she returned her MBE.

Clif Peir (1905–1985) was a Sydney painter and teacher, who studied at the Julian Ashton School under Ashton. He was President of the Australian Art Society in 1951, and later a member of the Royal Art Society of NSW and the St George Art Society. From 1950 onward he travelled extensively in Central Australia, and throughout the 1960s he painted views of desert landscapes and Aboriginal people. In the early 1960s he taught art at evening classes at Sutherland School, and also worked sporadically as an art critic for the Mirror newspaper group and a broadcaster for the BBC. He held many solo and group shows in Sydney from 1950 onward, though his principal employment was producing advertising material for the Sydney County Council. In 1970 Peir’s work was featured in an ‘Art Sale for Land Rights’ at Paddington Town Hall with proceeds going to the New South Wales, Kimberley and North Queensland Aboriginal Land Councils. Kath Walker stayed with the Peir family in Oatley while this portrait was being painted. Hung in the Archibald for 1965, it was purchased soon after by Lord Talbot de Malahide, an Irish collector of Australian art. It is assumed to have been brought to Tasmania by his sister after his death; it was sold at auction for $120 in 1977.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Richard Brian Close, Githabul Tribe, Woodenbong 2000
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number: 2000.19