Honorary doctorate for Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann AM

Aboriginal elder, educator and artist Dr 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 authentic servant-leadership and her contributions 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 on Wednesday 5 October in Sydney, following the respected Aboriginal activist’s first trip to Europe to attend the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.

A Catholic Aboriginal woman from the Daly River community of the Northern Territory, Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann has spent the majority of her life “walking between two worlds” and is a respected advocate for the Aboriginal worldview. Her activism and leadership have gained her an Order of Australia Medal and title of the 2021 Senior Australian of the Year.

In 1975 she 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.

Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann also completed a Bachelor of Education and in 1993 was appointed Principal of St Francis Xavier School in Daly River.

Baptised as a teenager and given a Catholic education, the Catholic faith has also been central to Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann’s life and work, particularly her iconography work, which is both distinctly Catholic and Indigenous.

Among her 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.

“Throughout her life and her work, Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann has 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 in her Christian faith,” Professor Skrbis said.

“Australia as a whole nation has come to a deeper understanding of Aboriginal culture through Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann’s gentle advocacy of reconciliation.

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

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