NOTE: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following content contains images of a deceased person.
Rosalie Kunoth-Monks OAM, actress and pioneering Indigenous activist, has died aged 85. The late activist’s family has granted permission to use her image.
According to 3KND, the humanitarian’s family said she suffered several strokes on Wednesday (January 26), resulting in her evacuation from her home in Utopia to Alice Springs, NT, where she died in hospital that afternoon, surrounded by family.
An Arrernte/Anmatjere woman, Kunoth-Monks was born in 1937 at Utopia Station in the Northern Territory, before moving to Alice Springs. It was there in 1955, upon finishing school at 16 years old, that Kunoth-Monks was cast in the title role of Jedda, the first Australian film to be shot in colour.
She and Jedda co-star Robert Tudawali were the first Aboriginal actors to star in a lead role. The film would later be played to the 2015 audience at Cannes Film Festival, and is considered in Australia today to be a renowned classic.
Kunoth-Monks was also a main character in the 2013 documentary film, Utopia. Directed by John Pilger, it was “an investigation into a suppressed colonial past and rapacious present”, providing an in-depth look into the experiences of Aboriginal Australians in modern Australia.
Kunoth-Monks was also a respected activist and politician. From 1960, Kunoth-Monks spent ten years as a nun in the Melbourne Anglican Community of the Holy Name. Upon leaving the order, she married Bill Monks and began work at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, also establishing the first home in Victoria for Aboriginal children.
Kunoth-Monks served as President of the Barkly Shire in the Northern Territory and several times presented as a Northern Territory candidate for political office. In 2007, Kunoth-Monks was presented with the Northern Territory Tribute to Women Award for working for the rights of Indigenous women.
Following the Northern Territory Intervention by the Australian government in 2007, she emphatically opposed the imposition of federal leases and other discriminatory measures that targeted only Aboriginal people across 73 communities.
Her concerns about the Northern Territory Intervention were acknowledged internationally, when in 2010, aged 73, Kunoth-Monks travelled with Reverend Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM to Geneva to attend the UN meeting of the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
In 2014, Kunoth-Monks’ appearance on ABC’s Q&A attracted national attention. In a passionate speech, she spoke in English and Arrernte language to reject claims that Indigenous people were not cooperating with non-Indigenous people to improve their quality of life. “Don’t try and suppress me and don’t call me a problem,” Kunoth-Monks said. “I am not the problem.”
Watch that interview below:
Kunoth-Monks is survived by her five children and 19 grandchildren. Per SBS, Kunoth-Monks’ granddaughter Amelia said: “She fought for her people because of the policies that don’t help us get out of the poverty that we have been put in.
“She wanted to fight against those policies and make her people act like they have purpose and dignity to live as equal people to our non-Indigenous brothers and sisters.”
A memorial service celebrating Kunoth-Monks’ extraordinary life is being arranged in Alice Springs before she is laid to rest at a private burial on country in Utopia.
Utopia director John Pilger paid tribute to Kunoth-Monks on social media, writing: “The best of Australians are Indigenous. Among the most inspiring was Rosalie Kunoth Monks.”
The best of Australians are Indigenous. Among the most inspiring was Rosalie Kunoth Monks, the Arrente/Ammatjere warrior, who has died. Rosalie came from the region called Utopia, from which my film took its name. Here is 'Utopia' as a tribute to Rosalie,https://t.co/hYRdqY7OZh
— John Pilger (@johnpilger) January 26, 2022
Read more tributes to Kunoth-Monks, including one by Olympian and and former politician Nova Peris, below.
Vale Aunty Rosalie Kunoth Monks AM (b. 1937-26.1.2022) A staunch Arrernte Anmatjere woman, A true leader & warrior for human rights. A relentless social & political activist! Rest Peacefully in our Dreamtime! #DayofMourning #IamNotTheProblem🖤✊🏾 pic.twitter.com/YkViDjsQi1
— Nova Peris OAM OLY (@NovaPeris) January 27, 2022
.@jpatto12 We are thinking of family and loved ones at this time.
— Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT🖤💛❤️ (@AMSANTaus) January 27, 2022
VALE ROSALIE KUNOTH MONKS.
Australia today lost a National Treasure and one of our greatest warrior women with the passing of Rosalie Kunoth Monks OAM. She was 85 years old.
Rest in Power 👑🙏🏽💫 pic.twitter.com/W1yBNiBI7d
— Jennetta Quinn-Bates (she/ her) (@JennettaQB) January 26, 2022
Vale Rosalie Kunoth-Monks OAM. Condolences to her family following the passing of this Arrernte/Anmatjerre icon. A screen pioneer and human rights activist, she was named National #NAIDOC Person of the Year in 2015. 🖤💛❤️ pic.twitter.com/BxMcJmxfLo
— NAIDOC (@naidocweek) January 27, 2022
Just when I thought today couldn’t get any heavier. Heartbroken to learn of the passing of staunch warrior woman Aunty Rosalie Kunoth Monks. In 1953 she became the first Aboriginal woman to play a leading role in a feature film as the character JEDDA who I was named after (cont) pic.twitter.com/BSrZcrfdha
— Jedda Costa (@CostaJedda) January 26, 2022
VALE Rosalie Kunoth monks
— Antoinette Braybrook (@BraybrookA) January 26, 2022
If you don't know Rosalie Kunoth-Monks OAM, watch this video. If it doesn't give you goosebumps, there's something wrong with you. https://t.co/yRb242G9LD
— Isy Mutebutton Oderberg (@yodaberg) January 27, 2022