Alumni News Articles

Painting virtue: Portrait of Laurie Baymarrwangga

9 July 2013

Painting virtue: Portrait of Laurie Baymarrwangga

It's National NAIDOC week, a week that celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Throughout the 53 year history of the Australian of the Year Awards we have recognised the achievements of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people including Senior Australian of the Year 2012, Laurie Baymarrwangga. Laurie is a community leader from the island of Murrungga in the Northern Territory and this week we received a lovely piece on Laurie from Dr Bentley James, an anthropolgist with the Crocodile Islands Rangers. 

"A gentle sea breeze touches the tamarind trees of Milingimbi where Laurie Baymarrwangga is sitting in the dappled shade on the beach of her mother’s country. The ninety seven year old Senior Australian of the Year 2012 is weaving with Melbourne artist Gillian Warden.                   

Gillian was invited to spend a week studying the island light and attempt to capture something of the special qualities of the person beneath the trees. ‘I named her portrait Virtue because she is so kind and wise.’ Since last year Baymarrwangga has completed her 1000km2 turtle sanctuary and continued work on a trilingual Yan-nhangu dictionary project to support language education on the homelands. This dictionary brings together two Yolngu languages, Yan-nhangu and Dhuwal/a (6000 speakers) with English to create a fabulous resource for education. She will give this full colour dictionary to Yolngu children on the homelands where bilingual education has been suspended.

Baymarrwangga says the painting looks just like her and laughs. She continues weaving and talking about the future, how she wants the children to learn about their country and their language. Wisdom, tolerance and foresight are some of Baymarrwangga’s qualities. She says that ‘to resist assimilation we must ennoble the hearts of those who do not know and try to change us’. Her great fear is that her culture and country will be destroyed. Perhaps by sharing so fully the gift of her knowledge, language and her country, she may protect it for a future generation that will appreciate its value."

If you know someone in your community whose work to create a better Australia has inspired you, whether it be someone you know or someone you admire from afar, you can have their achievements recognised by nominating them for the Australian of the Year Awards 2014. You can nominate online until midnight Friday 2 August 2013.