Lewis Yerloburka O’brien

Lewis Yerloburka O’brien

His Era

 Lewis Yerloburka O’brien was born at Point Pearce Mission in South Australia (SA) in 1930. His great grandmother was called Kudnarto. They had relocated to northern parts of Kaurna County due to Land dispossession (O’Brien 2007). Despite of his challenging life, Uncle Lewis attended Ethelton Primary School and technical school. He suffered from jaundice until he was ten.

He grew up during the era of stolen generation. His mother was constantly having threats that her child will be taken away from her.  O’brien father was Irish and so had a privilege to live with high intelligent people (westerners). However, he would hide his aboriginality to avoid discrimination (Samaras, 2005).  

When he enrolled at school, he felt like his parents taught him more skills than those taught in school. He was born in the County Cork. His value for culture was influenced by Lewis and May Adams. These two were his super parents who gave him immense Kaurna skills. In 1946, it was rare for an Aboriginal boy to acquire education. Despite the challenges that were erected by the welfare; O’brien managed to gain intermediate certificate (Lee, 2015).

 From a young age, he was interested by the Aboriginal culture (Gifford 2009).  He was born in an era when the culture of being Aboriginal was considered as uncivilized. In fact, to access equal human rights as the whites required one to apply for ‘cease being aboriginal’ under the Aborigines Act (Dockery, 2010).  This was the only way to acquire education. This was an error that led to destruction of Aboriginal identity as well as culture (O’Brien 2001).  

 The segregation was found in other infrastructures such as hospitals and hotels. The children were taken from their communities because it was believed that the uncivilized parents would influence the children. The government then believed that the children were in danger of adopting the immoral way of life. The main aim of this process was to de-Aboriginalise the children (Gifford 2009). Despite his fortunate life, he still remained deep rooted in his culture.

 However, Uncle Lewis managed to endure hardships. He became a stronger person, with his thoughts and philosophies of life built up by his Aboriginal grandparents.  These philosophies sustained him through the challenges he experienced. By listening to his elders, he remained committed to his culture and his people (Government of South Australia, 2010).

His Acknowledgements and Achievements

 Uncle Lewis has been involved in many committees that aimed to promote the dignity and rights of Aboriginal people.  He has published a lot of papers that have brought the unique culture of Aboriginal people to the limelight. Over the years, he has been involved in many art projects across the state.  He has provided pastoral and cultural guidance for aboriginal children and families (Pickett, Dudgeon, & Garvey 2000). His love for his culture is supported by the substantial contribution of the scholarly and art work particularly activities that promote and maintain the Kaurna culture and language at UniSA (Hooley & Levinson, 2013). His achievements also include political contributions that range from the Aboriginal advancement League in 1960s to his old age where he continued to offer mentorship and counselling to many at Flinders University. Conclusively, O’Brien’s achievements include

1995 – Telecom Advance Australia Award of Merit (PocheCentre 2011)

1995 – Life Member for Kura Yerlo Council

1997 – NAIDOC Elder of the Year

2000 – Port Adelaide Council Awards for Elder of the Year

2003 – “Local Hero” Metropolitan Australia Day Awards (PocheCentre 2011)

2003 – Centenary Medal (2001)

2004 – Fellow of the University of SA

2008 – Harmony run Medal

2009 – Citizen of Humanity Awarded by the National Committee of Human Rights


Dockery, A. 2010. Culture and Wellbeing: The Case of Indigenous Australians. Soc Indic Res, 99(2), pp.315-332.

Hooley, N. and Levinson, M. 2013. Investigating networks of culture and knowledge: a critical discourse between UK Roma Gypsies, Indigenous Australians and education. The Australian Educational Researcher, 41(2), pp.139-153. Government of South Australia.2010. Marine Engineer Lewis William Arthus O’brien AO