An Aboriginal activist dedicated to cultural independence and education, and an advocate for migrant and refugee women are among those who have been named the 2021 Australians of the Year.
Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann AM, 73, and Rosemary Kariuki, 60, were awarded this year’s Senior Australian of the Year and Local Hero awards at a ceremony in Canberra on Monday night.
Grace Tame, a 26-year-old sexual assault survivor and advocate, was named Australian of the Year, becoming the first Tasmanian to do so in the program’s 61-year history.
Isobel Marshall, a 22-year-old social entrepreneur helping women access personal hygiene products, rounded out the all-women slate of recipients as Young Australian of the Year.
Chair of the National Australia Day Council, Danielle Roche OAM, said all four recipients are strong and committed women “who are dedicated to breaking down barriers and advocates for people’s rights”.
“Grace, Miriam-Rose, Isobel and Rosemary are all committed to changing attitudes in our society and changing lives,” Ms Roche said.
“They epitomise the Australian values of respect, tolerance, equality of opportunity and compassion. Because of them, others get a fair go.”
Australian of the Year: Grace Tame
Grace Tame was 15 years old when she was first groomed and raped by her 58-year-old maths teacher, who was later found guilty and jailed for his crimes. But while her abuser was able to speak publicly about the case, Ms Tame was gagged by an archaic law in Tasmania that prevents victims of sexual abuse from identifying themselves.
With the help of the #LetHerSpeak campaign, Ms Tame applied to the Supreme Court for the right to publicly self-identify – and won.
Ms Tame’s advocacy has helped to push for legal reform and raise public awareness about the impacts of sexual violence.
“Let’s make some noise Australia,” she said after accepting the award on Monday night, before dedicating the gong to sexual abuse survivors.
“This is for us.”
Ms Tame called for greater focus on education and prevention of child sexual assault.
“Yes, discussion of child sexual abuse is uncomfortable, but nothing is more uncomfortable than the abuse itself,” she said.
Senior Australian of the Year: Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann AM
Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann, an Aboriginal elder from the Nauiyu community in the Katherine region of the Northern Territory, is an artist, activist, writer and public speaker.
She became the Territory’s first fully-qualified Aboriginal teacher in 1975, and went on to visit schools throughout the Top End, advocating for art to be taught as part of every child’s education.
Dr Baumann was appointed the principal of the Catholic school in her community, before going on to join the federal government’s advisory body, the National Indigenous Council.
She started the Miriam Rose Foundation, dedicated to bridging the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal culture, in 2013.
Dr Baumann was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia medal and an Honorary PhD in Education from Charles Darwin University ahead of being named Senior Australia of the Year this year.
“We learnt to speak your English fluently, walked on a one-way street to learn the white people’s way,” Dr Ungunmerr Baumann said after accepting her award on Monday night.
“Now is the time for you to come closer to understand us and to understand how we live and to listen to what needs are in our communities.”
Young Australian of the Year: Isobel Marshall
At the age of 18, Isobel Marshall, from Adelaide, and her school friend Eloise Hall set up a social enterprise to end the stigma around menstruation and improve access to female hygiene products.
TABOO sells ethically-sourced, organic cotton pads and tampons, with 100 per cent of net profits going to One Girls, a charity providing education programs for girls and women in Sierra Leone and Uganda.
Isobel and Eloise have also partnered with Vinnies Women’s Crisis centre in Adelaide to provide free products for women in emergency accommodation.
The Young Australian of the Year is also studying medicine and surgery at the University of Adelaide.
“Periods should not be a barrier to education,” Ms Marshall said after accepting her gong.
“They should not cause shame and menstrual products should be accessible and affordable. They are not a luxury or a choice.”
Local hero: Rosemary Kariuki
Kenyan-born Rosemary Kariuki, from Oran Park southwest of Sydney, fled family abuse and violence in her home country in 1999.
She became a multicultural community liaison officer with Parramatta Police in 2005, helping migrants fleeing domestic violence.
She co-founded the annual African Women’s Dinner Dance 14 years ago, which is attended by more than 400 people.
Ms Kariuki said the project arose out of a desire to end the isolation for newly arrived migrants.
“These women who don’t go out or make connections… it is because the services help them, but don’t connect them. They are lonely,” she told the Australia for UNHCR supporter event last December.
“The African Women’s Dinner Dance is to bring the women… on top of socialising, on top of making friends, it is a way, it is a vehicle for them learning what services are out there for them. It is a way of making the connections, it is a way of making friendships. And those friendships stay forever.”