Catholic educator and artist Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann receives ACU’s highest honor



CATHOLIC Aboriginal elder, educator and artist Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann received a PhD from the University of Australia’s Catholic University.

The honorary doctorate recognizes Dr. Ungunmerr-Baumann’s genuine servant-leadership and contributions to new understandings of Indigenous art and spirituality, and their significance to the Catholic tradition.

The ACU awarded Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann the honorary degree at a ceremony on Wednesday October 5 in Sydney, following his first trip to Europe to attend the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.

“It’s very humbling to be recognized for my life’s accomplishments,” said Dr. Ungunmerr-Baumann.

An Aboriginal Catholic from Nauiyu, near the Daly River community in the Northern Territory, Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann has spent most of his life “walking between two worlds”.

“Growing up, the nuns taught me to understand how Westerners lived so that I could learn to walk in two worlds,” Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann said.

“It is important that the people of Australia know that now is a good time to walk with us. To walk with us, it is important that it starts as simply as sitting down, especially on the country, and s ‘to listen.

Sincere teacher: “Education can take you far beyond what you can imagine.”

Baptized as a teenager and given a Catholic upbringing, Dr. Ungunmerr-Baumann’s teaching career began in the classroom, when her teacher discovered she could read and offered her a job as an assistant. This same teacher encouraged her to take a university education in education. In 1975, Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann became the first fully qualified Aboriginal teacher in the Northern Territory.

While training to become an educator, Dr. Ungunmerr-Baumann also developed a love for painting and encouraged local Nauiyu children to explore their connection to the land through art.

In 1986, she and other members of the Nauiyu community established the Merrepen Arts Center to foster spiritual growth and education through the visual arts. This led Dr. Ungunmerr-Baumann to complete a Bachelor of Arts degree at Deakin University.

In 1993, she was appointed Principal of St Francis Xavier School in Daly River, a position she held for 13 years.

“Teaching culture, art and spirituality has given me incredible experiences and opened up opportunities that I never dreamed of as a young teaching assistant,” said Dr. Ungunmerr- Baumann.

“Education can take you far beyond what you can imagine.”

More than a decade ago, Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann launched the Miriam Rose Foundation, which she established in honor of seven young children from her Indigenous community who died by suicide, including her own nephew, who was photographed as a baby with Pope John Paul. II during his historic visit to Alice Springs in November 1986.

Among Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann’s precious gifts to the Australian nation is the practice of Dadiri, a form of contemplation which she describes as “the deep inner source within us”.

ACU Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Zlatko Skrbis said the ACU was proud to honor one of Australia’s most respected leaders in society and the Church.

“Throughout her life and work, Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann earned the respect of the three most important circles in her life – her Aboriginal people, the multicultural citizens of her beloved Australia and those who share his Christian faith,” Professor Skrbis said.

“Australia as a whole has gained a better understanding of Aboriginal culture through Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann’s gentle plea for reconciliation.

“She is a worthy recipient of the ACU’s highest honor and an inspiration to all Australians.”

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