Born in the bush at Daly River, Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann has been named Senior Australian of the Year

Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann, the 2021 Senior Australian of the Year. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann, the 2021 Senior Australian of the Year. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Artist, activist and teacher Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann AM, has been named the 2021 Senior Australian the Year.

The 73-year-old Aboriginal educator from Daly River established the Miriam Rose Foundation in 2013 to bridge the divide between Aboriginal culture and mainstream society, driving reconciliation at a grassroots level.

The Aboriginal elder has been a long-serving campaigner, advocating for the inclusion of visual art as part of every child's education.

Dr Ungunmerr Baumann called for non-Indigenous Australians to come closer to First Nations communities.

"We learnt to speak your English fluently, for years, we have walked on a one-way street to learn the white people's way," she said.

"I've learnt to walk in two worlds and live in towns and cities, and even worked in them.

"Now is the time for you to come closer to understand us and how we live."

"When you come to visit or work in our communities and leave your comfort zones, I ask that you bring your knowledge and wisdom.

"But we ask you also to learn and understand how we live and function in our communities, and listen to what [our] needs are."

This is the gift that Australia is thirsting for. It is something like what you call 'contemplation'.

Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Bauman

Through her professional and creative life, Dr Ungunmerr Baumann has remained dedicated to maintaining the cultural independence of her people and being a spokesperson for the Aboriginal worldview.

Trained as a teacher in Melbourne, her first position with the Northern Territory Department of Education was as an art consultant, which afforded her the opportunity to visit schools across the territory.

She went on to achieve a master's degree in education and returned as principal to the same St Francis Xavier Catholic school in Nauiyu, her home community, where she had started as a teacher's assistant in 1968.

Dr Ungunmerr Baumann was appointed to the Order of Australia for services to Aboriginal people in 1998, and joined the federal government's advisory body, the National Indigenous Council, in 2004.

She was also awarded an honorary PhD from Charles Darwin University, recognising her outstanding service in the fields of education, visual arts, and Aboriginal affairs.

Her advocacy work with the Miriam Rose Foundation has been to develop pathways to help Indigenous youth learn to "walk in two worlds" - those of Aboriginal culture and Western culture.

Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann, the 2021 Senior Australian of the Year. Picture: Salty Dingo

Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann, the 2021 Senior Australian of the Year. Picture: Salty Dingo

The foundation produces resources to help spread the message of dadirri - the spiritual dimension of Aboriginal culture - and creates opportunities for people to learn more about it.

Dr Ungunmerr Baumann described dadirri as "the deep spring that is inside us".

"We call on it and it calls to us," she said.

"This is the gift that Australia is thirsting for. It is something like what you call 'contemplation'.

"When I experience dadirri, I am made whole again. I can find my peace in this silent awareness.

"Dadirri also means awareness of where you've come from, why you are here, where are you going now and where you belong."

This story Indigenous artist, activist and teacher named Senior Australian of the Year first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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