A line up of incredible people doing the work for their communities, the 2021 Australian of the Year Awards saw two women of colour and two young women clean up on Monday night.
Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann AM, an Aboriginal activist, educator and artist dedicated to cultural independence and education has won Senior Australian of the Year.
The Nauiyu Elder became the Territory’s first fully qualified Aboriginal teacher in 1975 and was later appointed Principal of her community’s Catholic School.
She visited schools throughout the Top End as an art consultant for the Department of Education, advocating for the inclusion of arts and to bridge the divide between Aboriginal culture and mainstream society.
In 2013, Dr Baumann established the Miriam Rose Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation working to empower Indigenous youth through education, art, culture and opportunity.
Dr Baumann said she was very excited about the Australian of the Year Awards.
“Two hundred years ago we began to interact with whitefellas and Australia has become multicultural,” she said.
“Since then … we learnt to speak your English fluently, for years we have walked on a one-way street the white man’s way.
“Now is the time for you to come closer to understand us.”
Four women took out this year’s awards, with 26-year-old sexual assault survivor and advocate Grace Tame named Australian of the Year — the first Tasmanian to do so in the awards’ 61-year history.
At 15-years-old, Tame was groomed and raped by her 58-year-old teacher at a private girls’ school in Hobart. Her abuser was jailed but Tame was not legally able to speak about her experience publicly under Tasmania’s sexual assault victim gag laws.
She became the anonymous face and catalyst of the #LetHerSpeak campaign, applying to the Supreme Court for the right to speak publicly and identify as a rape survivor. In 2019, she won.
“Predators manipulate all of us: family, friends, colleagues, strangers, in every class, culture and community,” Tame said in her acceptance speech.
“They thrive when we fight amongst ourselves and weaponise all of our vulnerabilities, trauma does not discriminate nor does it end when the abuse itself does.
“First Nations people, people with disabilities, the LGBTQI community and other marginalised groups face even greater barriers to justice, every voice matters. Just as the impacts of evil are borne by all of us, so too are solutions born of all of us.”
The Local Hero Award was given to Rosemary Kariuki, a multicultural liaison officer for the Parramatta Police, who migrated from Kenya to Sydney in 1999.
Kariuki has spent years supporting other refugees; she specialises in helping migrants who are facing domestic violence, language barriers and financial stress.
At the awards ceremony, Kariuki spoke about her struggles with the language and cultural differences in Australia.
“Sometimes we don’t realise the difference the smallest gesture can make,” she said.
“As humans, we have more similarities than differences.
“Together we can make this wonderful country that I can call home even greater.”
Twenty-two-year-old South Australian social entrepreneur Isobel Marshall won Young Australian of the Year for her work helping women access personal hygiene products.
At 18, Marshall crowd funded $56,000 alongside her friend Eloise Hall and established the charity TABOO, a brand of ethically sourced organic pads and tampons.
Marshall rounded out the all-women line up of recipients of this year’s awards. In her acceptance speech she called on others to continue fighting on behalf of young women and girls.
“We have a responsibility to acknowledge our privilege and use our resources to lift others up,” she said.
By Darby Ingram