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Elder calls for more silence, more listening

Aboriginal activist, educator and artist Dr Miriam Rose Ungunmerr Baumann AM officially kicked off Ozwater’22 this morning with a stirring plea for more contemplation and more listening.

In the opening keynote address, Dr Ungunmerr Baumann, last year’s Senior Australian of the Year, told the audience a compelling tale of the importance of sitting down and listening to each other.

Harking back to her childhood in Ngangikurungkurr Country near the Daly River, she said knowing to be quiet and listen was part of her childhood.

“When we were hunting, if we weren't listening and being quiet and being aware of the surroundings, we'd never get any food to eat that night,” she said.

“Because with all our chatting and laughing and talking and playing, we'd chase all the animals away, and we'd have nothing to eat that night.”

In fact, Dr Ungunmerr Baumann’s tribe name – Ngangikurungkurr – means deep water sounds, and the willingness and patience to listen for messages from the deep informs much of her teaching.

“I want to share with you all a special quality of our people, our most important and our most unique gift,” she said.

“In our language this quality is called dadirri. It is inner deep listening and quiet still awareness. Dadirri is the deep spring that is inside us. We call on it and it calls on us, and Australia is thirsting for it, something like what you call contemplation.”

Dr Ungunmerr Baumann described the importance of water to her people, on the edge of the Daly River floodplain.

“It is a life-giving source, a river is fed by 16 creeks and rivers upstream between Katherine and us,” she said.

“It is an important source of food for many of my people, providing fish such as barramundi and turtle. It is teeming with life.” 

But this year, Dr Ungunmerr Baumann has seen the tourists who come to fish in the region become disappointed with their small catches.

“I say to them, it is because we never got a really good wet season in the past two or three years,” she said.

“And I say to them, that's nature telling us that it has to replenish. And then it's telling us that we have to sit quietly, silently and be aware.”

She says that her people take only what they need from the river, and know that taking care of their streams and rivers was vital not only for them, but for other people downstream.

“Taking too many fish left nothing for the people along the rest of the river,” she said.

However, Dr Ungunmerr Baumann says this care is not being taken throughout the country.

“In some areas of Australia, rivers have been uncared for or overused, and have run dry,” she said.

“We are concerned by the decisions being made by people on properties upstream – in particular, pollution and the use of chemicals, or the overuse of water.

“We hope that when decisions are made, that we can all sit down together and deeply listen to each other. Our culture is different. We are asking our fellow Australians to take the time to know us to be still and listen to us.”