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2021 Senior Australian of the Year: Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann AM

Updated: Feb 2, 2021

Artist, activist and teacher Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann AM has been named the 2021 Senior Australian the Year. Dr. Miriam Rose is an Aboriginal educator from Daly River who established the Miriam Rose Foundation in 2013 to bridge the divide between Aboriginal culture and mainstream society, driving reconciliation at a grassroots level. Dr. Miriam Rose is a member of the Ngangiwumirr language group. She also speaks four other local languages. Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann yarns with Gman on Big Brekkie.

Dr Miriam-Rose 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. 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. "When Miriam Rose was about five years old she was placed in the care of her aunt Nellie and uncle Attawoomba Joe, a legendary police tracker. Miriam Rose subsequently moved with her aunt and uncle to live at police stations at Adelaide River, Pine Creek and Mataranka, where she attended government schools. While maintaining her traditional cultural education, Miriam Rose learned to "read the country" as well as the pages of her textbooks.

When she was aged about fourteen, Miriam Rose returned to Daly River and continued her education at the mission school. In 1965, Miriam Rose was baptised a Catholic.

In 1968, Miriam Rose undertook a Teaching Assistants course at Kormilda College in Darwin, and subsequently became a teacher's aide at the St. Francis Xavier mission school at Daly River. She returned to Kormilda for further study in 1971. It was during this time that she became keenly interested in painting. Miriam Rose developed a unique imagery characterised in her acclaimed series of paintings, Australian Stations of the Cross. Early recognition of her work was also given when she was asked to illustrate Alan Marshall's book "People of the Dreaming".

As Miriam Rose's interest in painting grew, she used art increasingly as a means of encouraging children to express themselves. In 1974, the Commonwealth Government sponsored a secondment to Victoria, enabling her to work with art teachers in schools.

In 1975, Miriam Rose again returned to Daly River as the Territory's first fully qualified Aboriginal teacher and for many years held the position of Art Consultant with the Professional Services Branch of the Northern Territory Department of Education. During this time, she visited schools throughout the Territory thus gaining the opportunity to advance her commitment to the inclusion of visual art as a part of every child's education.

On her return to the Daly River School in 1982, Miriam Rose was convinced that there was a need for more Aboriginal teachers to work among non-Aboriginal school children. She became deeply committed to ensuring that Aboriginal people had the opportunity to become qualified teachers and to manage their own schools.

Miriam Rose continues to advocate that education is a matter for the whole community and must be adapted to suit contemporary Aboriginal needs. She has shown great leadership and perseverance in meeting these objectives. For example, she encouraged other women from Daly River to study to become teachers and she initiated a very successful remote area, teaching education program. St. Francis Xavier School was once completely staffed and managed by Aboriginal people. Her commitment to the community is demonstrated by her role in creating the Merrepin Arts Centre, which fosters adult education with a focus on the visual arts.

In 1988 Miriam Rose was awarded the degree of Bachelor of Arts by Deakin University, through Batchelor College. Two years later, she began training as a school principal, and in 1993 was appointed to the position of Principal at the St. Francis Xavier School at Daly River. Miriam Rose was awarded a Bachelor of Education degree in 1993 by Deakin University, and in 1999 gained her Master of Education Degree, with High Distinction. The focus of her work for this degree was the integration of traditional and western education for Aboriginal children and adults.

In 1998, Miriam Rose was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia, for her services to Aboriginal education and art, and for services to the Nauiyu community having been for many years a member of the local community council, often in the role of President.

In recognition of her outstanding service and contribution to the Northern Territory, in acknowledgment of her leadership and example in the fields of Aboriginal education and the visual arts, and for her contribution to the general community Miriam Rose was awarded an honorary doctorate from Northern Territory University. On January 25, 2021 Miriam was named the Senior Australian of the Year.


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