Aboriginal elder, educator and artist Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann has received a Doctor of the University (Honoris Causa) from Australian Catholic University.
The honorary doctorate recognises Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann’s servant-leadership and her contribution to new understandings of Indigenous art and spirituality, and their importance to the Catholic tradition.
ACU awarded Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann the honorary degree at a ceremony yesterday in Sydney, following her first trip to Europe to attend the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.
“It feels very humbling to be acknowledged for my lifetime achievements,” Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann said.
A Catholic Aboriginal woman from Nauiyu near the Daly River community of the Northern Territory, Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann spent the majority of her life “walking between two worlds”.
Baptised as a teenager and given a Catholic education, Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann’s teaching career started at school, when her teacher offered her a job as an assistant teacher. That same teacher encouraged her to take up university training 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 of painting, and encouraged the 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 Centre to foster spiritual growth and education through visual arts. This led Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann to complete a Bachelor of Arts through Deakin University.
In 1993, she was appointed Principal of St Francis Xavier School in Daly River, a role she held for 13 years.
More than a decade ago, Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann launched the Miriam Rose Foundation, which she established in honour of seven young children from her Aboriginal community who died of suicide, including her own nephew, who was famously photographed as a baby with Pope John Paul II during his historic visit to Alice Springs in November 1986.
Among Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann’s treasured gifts to the Australian nation is the practice of Dadiri, a form of contemplation that she describes as “the deep inner spring inside us”.
ACU Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Zlatko Skrbis said ACU was proud to honour one of Australia’s most respected leaders in society and the Church.