GUTSY WOMAN: Dr. Miriam-Rose Ungunner Baumann AM

Updated: Jan 30

Meet Dr. Miriam-Rose Baumann, and extraordinary Aboriginal activist, educator, writer, public speaker, and artist of the Ngan’gityemerri language. Born in Daly River, Australia in 1950, she’s the first Indigenous teacher in the Northern Territory–the central and northern central regions of Australia. Dr. Baumann is also the first Indigenous Australian to travel to Antartica. She’s the founder of Merrepen Arts Center, and owner of Rak Malfiyin Homeland–a sandstone escarpment. Her most recent honor is being named 2021s Senior Australian of the Year.

Born in Australia’s bush, Dr. Baumann is a member of the the Ngan’gityemerri language group. She is fluent in four other local languages as well. Despite never attending a secondary school, she became the area’s first Indigenous teacher in 1975 as well as principal in St. Francis Xavier School in her local community. Dr. Baumann is greatly admire in the Northern Territory for her leadership as well as her commitment to promoting the education of the Aboriginal community. Ensuring the Aboriginal people become qualified teachers and manage their own schools is her priority.

In 1998, Dr. Baumann was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for her devoted service to Aboriginal art and education. Four years later she was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Northern Territory University recognizing her leadership and amazing example in Aboriginal education and visual arts, and for her many contributions to the common community of the Northern Territory. In 2004, Dr. Baumann was appointed to the Federal Government Advisory Board (now defunct), the National Indigenous Council.

When she was only five, Miriam-Rose was placed in the care of her Aunt Nellie and Uncle Attawooba Joe–a famous tracker for the police. Moving from police station to police station with her aunt and uncle, she became a diligent student in school, not daring to skip class for fear of being reported by police to her uncle. She received a formal education at the same time as she learned indigenous ways by following her uncle around. The combination enabled Miriam-Rose to build skills of reading books as well as “reading the land” making her feel comfortable in both worlds.

After finishing her primary schools, Miriam-Rose took a position as a domestic servant to a school teacher. Once the teacher discovered her reading abilities, Miriam-Rose quickly became the teacher’s assistant at the school. Her world opened up. She first took a teacher’s assistant course, a bridging course and a degree from Deakin University followed (1975). It was then she returned to Daly River to teach. Her education continued with post-graduate work, earning a Bachelor of Education in 1993, her Masters in 1999. She had been appointed principal in 1993.

Committed and innovative, Dr. Baumann became a leading educator. A talented and accomplished artist, she began experimenting mixing western acrylics with traditional techniques. She encouraged her students to express themselves through their art work as she had done. Dr. Baumann was then employed by the Curriculum and Research Center located in Darwin (1977) as well as a Commonwealth Government secondment (a temp loaned from one organization to another) to Victoria which enabled her to work with art instructors of that state.

Active in many organizations, Dr. Baumann served several years as President of the Nauiya Community Government Council–which included health services, crises accommodation, and community housing. When first appointed in 1982, being the first female to hold that position, she ran head-long into misogyny, being criticized for “not knowing her proper place as a woman.” (No matter where in the world we are, misogyny seems inherent.) Regardless, she was an extremely competent and effective President.

Still today Dr. Baumann is dedicated to maintaining the cultural integrity of the Aboriginal peoples as she has for the last forty years of her life. Whether In her profession, her community, or her creativity, Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Bauman continues upholding her native “family” with integrity and passion.

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