Senior Australian of the Year shares 'the deep spring within her': Jesus
The 2021 Senior Australian of the Year Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann (AO) is an Aboriginal elder from Daly River (Nauiyu), near Katherine in the Northern Territory.
She is a renowned artist, activist, writer and public speaker, and the first Aboriginal person to become a fully qualified teacher in the NT.
But underlying all of these aspects of her identity is her faith in Christ.
“I am beginning to hear the Gospel at every level of my identity. I am beginning to feel the great need we have of Jesus – to protect and strengthen our identity; and to make us whole and new again,” Dr Ungunmerr Baumann wrote in a foreword to the Bible Society Australia’s art book Our Mob, God’s Story – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Artists share their faith, published in 2017.
Dr Ungunmerr Baumann became the Territory’s first qualified Aboriginal teacher in 1975. She spent her earlier years advocating for the inclusion of visual arts in the education of every Australian child, visiting schools throughout the Top End as an art consultant for the Department of Education.
After gaining a Master’s in Education in Melbourne, she returned to her home community as principal of St Francis Xavier Catholic school in Nauiyu, where she had started as a teacher’s assistant in 1968.
In 1998, Dr Ungunmerr Baumann was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia medal for her services to Aboriginal people. She was invited to join the federal government’s advisory body, the National Indigenous Council, in 2004. She was also awarded an honorary PhD in Education from Charles Darwin University for her work in education, visual arts and Aboriginal affairs.
In 2013, Dr Ungunmerr Baumann established the Miriam Rose Foundation, a not-for-profit that aims to “empower Indigenous youth through education, art, culture and opportunity”. In order to do this, the organisation advocates “for experiences that allow Indigenous youth to learn to ‘walk in two worlds’ – Aboriginal culture and mainstream Western culture.”
One of the influential concepts Dr Ungunmerr Baumann has shared through her foundation is the spiritual concept of “dadirri – inner deep listening and quiet still awareness”.
“This beautifully concise explanation of the spiritual dimension of Aboriginal culture has since been utilised by people working in diverse settings and in private meditations all over the globe,” says the Miriam Rose website.
Dr Ungunmerr Baumann explored this concept in her foreword to Our Mob, God’s Story, saying: “There are deep springs within each of us. Within this deep spring, which is the very Spirit of God, is a sound. The sound of Deep calling to Deep. The sound is the word of God – Jesus.”
Also in Our Mob, God’s Story, she explained how her Aboriginality and Christianity have been key in informing her own sense of timing and purpose throughout her life and work: “Our time is short. People will come after us, and they will tell the stories we have told again. In Aboriginal society that is how we survive – telling the stories, sharing the knowledge, showing the places to gather food and water, passing on the ceremonies. As we grow older, we continue to pass on the stories to our children in our communities. Through our words and actions we tell them about our ways. We help them to grow strong to make their judgements.”
“The writers of the Bible also used stories to share their knowledge. Without the stories the Apostles passed on, we wouldn’t have heard about Jesus’ life. Like the Apostle, we are called to pass on the Good News of Jesus. It is a repeating story – about life, growth and telling the story to others. We believe it is always God’s time …
“Our Aboriginal culture has taught us to be still and wait … We wait on God, too. His time is the right time. We wait for him to make his Word clear to us. We don’t worry. We know that in time and in the spirit of dadirri (that deep listening and quiet stillness) his way will be clear.”
In accepting the 2021 Senior Australian of the Year Award – her third time being nominated – the 73-year-old challenged non-Indigenous people saying, “We learnt to speak your English fluently, walked on a one-way street to learn the white people’s way. Now is the time to come closer to understand us and to understand how we live and to listen to what needs are in our communities.”