• Isobel Marshall, Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann, Grace Tame e Rosemary Kariuki (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)Source: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas
Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann named 2021 Senior Australian of the year, with many other First Nations People acknowledged for their contribution to Australia.
Mikele Syron

26 Jan 2021 - 3:03 PM  UPDATED 26 Jan 2021 - 3:39 PM

Renowned teacher, writer, public speaker, activist, and artist Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann from the Nauiyu community in the Katherine region of the Northern Territory, has been named the 2021 Senior Australian of The Year.

Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann became the first fully qualified Aboriginal teacher in the Top End in 1975, when she became a principal in Nauiyu. She later became an art consultant for the Department of Education where she visited schools across the Northern Territory to advocate the inclusion of visual art as a critical element of every child's education.

When presenting her award, the judging panel said that it was her dedication to maintaining the cultural independence of her people and her role as a spokesperson for an Aboriginal worldview, that motivated the selection.

Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann had been nominated for the Australian of the Year award three times previously and was commemorated for her contribution to the National Indigenous Council, and for founding the Miriam Rose Foundation which takes a grassroots approach to reconciliation, by advocating for a bridged gap between Aboriginal culture and mainstream society.

During her acceptance speech on Monday night, Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann emphasised the critical significance of connecting the cultural groups of Australia.

"We learned to speak your English fluently, walked on a one-way street to learn the white people's way," Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann said after accepting her award on Monday night.

"Now is the time for you to come closer to understand us and to understand how we live and to listen to what needs are in our communities," she said.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders recognised for their ongoing contribution to creating change

Beyond recognising the arduous work of Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann, the 2021 Australia Day Honours celebrated the contribution made by Indigenous leaders across the nation.

Among those honoured was 91-year-old Yorta Yorta elder, Aunty Frances Mathyssen, who was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia, after being recognised for her dedication to improving the rights of Indigenous Australians in her community, since walking off the Cummeragunja Mission in 1939.

In the 1970s, Aunty Frances was instrumental in launching the Aboriginal Welfare Committee and co-founded the Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-operative from her home kitchen. In recent times, she has been acknowledged for her devotion to establishing culturally-informed healthcare and her role as an advocate at the forefront of the fight for a treaty.

In her acceptance speech, Aunty Frances emphasised that there is still a long way to go in the fight to attain reconciliation.

"I'm happy today to say that I got recognised but I didn't do it to get recognised, I did it for my people," she said.

"It'd be great if everybody recognised Aboriginal people for what we've been through," she said.

Also honoured for their service to improving the lives of Indigenous Australians across health, education, housing, and land management sectors were; Wiradjuri woman Julian Guthrie, Yamanti man Frank Mallard, Narungga, Karurna and Ngarrindjeri man Professor Lester Rigney, Norma Tracey, and Goomburrup woman Elise Penny.