Because most Aboriginal history was passed through largely lost oral histories, there is no current knowledge of famed or exceptional people before white settlers arrived. Because of this, our earliest stories of Aboriginal history comes from a time of extreme conflict, when Aborigines were defined as workers, hindrances or outright enemies. Most records of exceptional indigenous Australians are records of their attempts to regain human dignity that many white settlers attempted to take.
This is a continual trend until the 70's. Any history apart from this was rarely recorded, and is inevitably an extremely one sided account. We can certainly freely celebrate these notable indigenous Australians:
Cathy Freeman was the first Aboriginal athlete to represent Australia. Freeman was a part of the 4x100 relay team which won gold at the Commonwealth Games in 1990. She went on to win silver in the 1996 Olympics 400 metre sprint, first and the 1997 World Champion and again in 1999, and won gold at the 2000 Olympics, where she also lit the Olympic Flame in Sydney. She is now an Ambassador of the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation, and is involved in several other charitable organisations.
Mick Dodson is a member of the Yawuru people. He graduated from law at Monash University in 1974, becoming the first indigenous Australian to graduate from law in Australia. He since used his degree to champion land rights and other indigenous issues, including an inquiry into aboriginal deaths in police custody. He went on to win Australian of the Year in 2009, and has continued to work towards equality in Australia.
Sir Douglas Nicholls came from the Yorta Yorta people, who became a professional Australian Rules Football player. While he was originally recruited by the Carlton Football Club, he left because of overwhelming racism from the players, and so moved to the Northcote Football Club. He later became a Christian Minister and social worker, caring for the Aboriginal community with social problems such as alcohol abuse and gambling problems. He became the first Aboriginal Pastor for the Church of Christ in Australia. He was then knighted in 1972 - the first Aboriginal person to be knighted - and was appointed the Governor of South Australia.
Eddie Mabo was a Torres Strait Islander who campaigned for Indigenous Land Rights, specifically for his home, the Mer Islands, where the state of Queensland hoped to abolish any existing native title rights. This court case ultimately led to the abolishment of the concept of Australia as terra nullis - previously belonging to no man or people (before white settlers). This opened the way for more cases arguing for native land rights, and is considered a landmark case legitimising the Indigenous relationship with the land. Sadly Mabo died of lung cancer before this ruling, and never saw the results of his efforts.
Bennelong was a man of the Eora, who was captured in 1789 and brought to Governor Phillip, who hoped to learn more about native Australians. Bennelong resided in the Governor's house before escaping after five months. He did, however, continue to associate with the white settlement and maintained his friendship with the Governor. In 1792 he sailed to England with the Governor and was said to have been presented to George III, but returned to Australia, homesick and physically unwell, arriving back in 1975. He died in 1813, his death recorded in the Sydney Gazette, where they described him as "...he was a thorough savage, not to be warped from the form and character that nature gave him...", reflecting Sydney Societies growing dislike of native Australians as difficulties arose over land.
Photo reference: www.adcq.qld.gov.au