Deep water sounds of an Indigenous mystic

Aboriginal leader Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Bauman is a woman of vision and insight. All her adult life she has worked to share this in many fields: as a gifted teacher and education administrator, as an acclaimed artist and illustrator, and now as a much in-demand speaker, spreading her insights across cultural and racial divides.

She spoke with Eureka Street TV at an Indigenous theology symposium held at Australian Catholic University, Brisbane. The interview is sponsored by the University's Asia-Pacific Centre for Inter-Religious Dialogue. She talks about the challenges facing Aboriginal communities and the need for support from the broader community, and the Aboriginal concept of dadirri, a form of deep inner listening and contemplation. (Continues below)

Miriam-Rose was born in 1950 near Nauiyu (formerly called Daly River) about 200 km south of Darwin. She is part of the Ngangikurunggurr language group, and speaks four other Aboriginal languages, as well as English.

When she was 18 she began training as a teacher at Kormilda College in Darwin. After completing this she became a teacher's aide at St Francis Xavier mission school at Daly River. A few years later she returned to Kormilda for further study, and also took up painting.

She began using art in the classroom as a means of helping children express themselves, and she developed her own style of painting, often combining Aboriginal motifs and Christian symbols. Perhaps her best known series of paintings is her Australian Stations of the Cross.

In 1974 the Commonwealth Government sponsored her to spend time in Victorian schools where she worked with art teachers. In 1975 she returned to Daly River as the Northern Territory's first fully qualified Aboriginal teacher, and then for many years she was Art Consultant to the Territory's Department of Education. In this capacity she visited schools throughout the Top End encouraging students' practice of art.

In 1988 Miriam-Rose graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Deakin University. Shortly after she began training as a school principal, and in 1993 was appointed as Principal of St Francis Xavier School at Daly River. In the same year she was awarded a Bachelor of Education by Deakin University, and in 1999 she gained a Master of Education with High Distinction.

In 1998 she was made a Member of the Order of Australia for her role in promoting Aboriginal education and art, and for services to the Nauiyu community. She was also awarded an honorary doctorate from Northern Territory University.

Throughout her life she has been sustained by dadirri, and now she is trying to communicate about it more broadly in Australian society. It is closely connected with her innermost identity, the name of her primary language and tribal group.

'Ngangikurunggurr is the name of my tribe,' she has written. 'The word can be broken up into three parts: Ngangi means word or sound, Kuri means water, and Kurr means deep. So the name of my people means deep water sounds, or sounds of the deep. And dadirri is tapping into that deep spring that is within us.'

Peter KirkwoodPeter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant who worked for 23 years in the Religion and Ethics Unit of ABC TV. He has a Master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity. 

Topic tags: Peter Kirkwood, Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Bauman



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Existing comments

I met Miriam Rose 20 years ago at a conference in Canberra. She is a lovely shy and gfited person. Her Aboriginal Stations of the Cross are more meaningful to our school children than the formal approved stations we are familiar with.Miriam Rose is a gift to all Austtalians.He writings on Dadirri p
Bev Smith | 16 July 2010

Thank you Miriam-Rose for your fascinating talk, and thank you Peter for making the video.

"Aboriginal people are connected to land…. We don't own it, we belong to it, and we're very close to nature."

"(Western society) . . . waiting for us, not to catch up but to find our own pace."

I look forward to adding these thought-provoking words to the Inspirational Quotations page of my Web 2.0 website, before I launch it next week.
Gordon Rowland | 16 July 2010

I have been inspired by Miriam's art and words and also have had the great privilege of meeting her.She is remarkable in her unfailing faith in Christian and indigenous traditions. Finding the same God deep in both cultures and steeped in the oldest known knowledge, Miriam teaches a way of living and being at peace with creation,and her deep generosity and love for people, is especially evident in her family at Nauiyu.

She's an exemplary woman and I am so grateful for her gifts. I would like to see her meditation and insights of Dadirri given broader acknowledgement;young men in Australia are very spiritual,but,as I see it, have only football as an accepted spiritual life! This is wonderful but there is a great need to go inside and find personal peace with God. Catholic Education is a way to take this up.
Catherine | 17 July 2010


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