Honorary doctorate awarded to Dr Lewis Yarlupurka O'Brien

Highly respected Kaurna Elder and leader, Dr Lewis Yarlupurka O'Brien AO, has been presented with the highest honour a University can bestow, receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Adelaide.

The Honourable Catherine Branson AC KC, Chancellor, Dr Lewis Yarlupurka O'Brien AO and Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Peter Hoj AC.

The Honourable Catherine Branson AC KC, Chancellor; Dr Lewis Yarlupurka O'Brien AO and Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Peter Hoj AC.

The award recognises Dr O’Brien’s significant and distinguished service to the Indigenous community of South Australia as an Elder and educator, and to the promotion and protection of Indigenous culture and heritage. 

Since the 1970s, Dr O’Brien has used the powerful tool of education to transform the lives of Indigenous students and communities, as well as the broader community. In 2002, he founded Kaurna Warra Pintyanthi (meaning "creating Kaurna language") with fellow Kaurna Elder Dr Alitya Wallara Rigney. With a mission to develop and promote the recovery of the Kaurna language, including Kaurna language research, media, and resource production, Kaurna Warra Pintyanthi has been hosted by the University of Adelaide since 2004.  

Dr O’Brien has served a critical role as a bridge between the Kaurna Community and academic institutions. Over the years, he has held various roles including lead member of the Yaitya Ngutu Kaurna Advisory Group, Cultural Advisor and Lecturer, Wirltu Yarlu Aboriginal Education at the University of Adelaide. 

He has made a significant contribution to South Australian society, having served on committees including the Aboriginal Advancement League, Kaurna Heritage Committee, the State Council of Aboriginal Elders and various curriculum committees. 

Dr O’Brien was presented with his honorary doctorate at a ceremony at the University of Adelaide on Wednesday 21 February 2024. 

The Honourable Catherine Branson AC KC, Chancellor of the University of Adelaide, congratulated Dr O'Brien on receiving his award. 

“Dr Lewis Yarlupurka O'Brien AO is a voice of the generations and his actions have made a remarkable contribution to a healthier, more inclusive society. We are incredibly grateful for his long association with the University of Adelaide and are pleased to present him with the highest honour that a University can bestow,” she said. 

University of Adelaide Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Peter Høj AC, added: 

“Dr O'Brien brings the University community together through his stellar leadership, enabling dialogue and learning with insightful, wise and positive perspectives and outcomes. I congratulate Dr O'Brien on receiving this honorary doctorate.”  

Pro-Vice Chancellor (Indigenous Engagement), Professor Steve Larkin, is responsible for leading the University’s Indigenous higher education policy and First Nations Strategy. 

“Dr O’Brien’s cultural knowledge and authority enrich those who engage with him, in particular students who have the privilege to have access to his teachings though the Indigenous Knowledges courses. He has mentored and taught not only the students, but also staff and educators on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teaching methodologies, through the form of stories which he shares with passion and joy.” 

This latest honour follows numerous awards Dr O'Brien has received over the years, including being appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in the 2014 Queen’s Birthday Honours. 

He also holds an honorary doctorate from Flinders University and an honorary fellowship of the University of South Australia. 

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