Senior Australian of Year Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann is a teacher, artist and inspirational leader.

Story Kerry Sharp  Photo Shane Eecen

With the gentlest breeze cooling a perfect dry-season Saturday, Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann gazes out across the Daly River, relishing a break in a photo session she has graciously agreed to slot into a planned rare weekend out of the spotlight. 

The revered Northern Territory Indigenous leader, teacher, mentor, artist and ‘Nanna’ to multiple bush kids is at home with husband Ken and family in her riverbank community of Nauiyu, 250km south-west of Darwin. It’s a world away from the deluge of media and public speaking engagements the 2021 Senior Australian of the Year has accepted since January.

“I’ve lost count of how many,” she says, with no hint of complaint. “They get me to talk about all sorts of things – community life, my life, our young people and their needs. I’m proud to have received this honour and the whole community is excited that Nauiyu is now on the map for all our positive achievements here, especially for our young people.” 

The bush-schooled trailblazer concedes she was shocked to hear her name announced at the Canberra awards ceremony, but once on stage she radiated confidence, humour and vibrant colour. “My friends said, ‘We’ve got to go shopping to get you a new dress’,” she laughs. “I said ‘Only if it’s bright. All you wear down here is black. You won’t see me in black – just my teeth and eyeballs’!”

This story excerpt is from Issue #139

Outback Magazine: October/November 2021