Laurie Baymarrwangga

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Laurie Baymarrwangga (Baymarrwaŋa)
Born circa 1917
Murruŋga Island, Australia
Died 20 August 2014
Nationality Australian
Occupation Indigenous Tribal Elder
Known for Intergenerational transmission of cultural knowledge and heritage, preservation of biological heritage, preservation of traditional languages.

Laurie Baymarrwangga (Gawany) Baymarrwaŋa was born around 1917 on Murruŋga Island (largest of the outer Crocodile Islands of North-East Arnhem Land), in the Northern Territory of Australia.[1] Laurie was the Senior Aboriginal Traditional Owner of the Malarra estate, which includes Galiwin'ku, Dalmana, Murruŋga, Brul-brul and the Ganatjirri Maramba Salt Water surrounding the islands and inclusive of some 300 other named sites.[2] She devoted her life to the intergenerational transmission of the ancestral language and knowledge of her homelands on the Crocodile Islands, for the benefit of future generations.[3]

Clan membership and cultural heritage[edit]

She is a great-great grandmother of the Malarra-Gunbiirrtji Clan, and in 2012 was reportedly 95 years old.[4] She spoke the Yan-nhangu language, Djambarrpuyŋu, and several other regional languages of Northeast Arnhem Land.[5] She was named Senior Northern Territory Australian of the Year, and Senior Australian of the Year in 2012. Her encyclopaedic knowledge was the inspiration for an ethnographic publication[6] and a language documentation project[7]

She was first photographed by Donald Thomson on Murrungga island in April, 1937.[8] She survived the World War II Japanese bombing of Milingimbi in 1943.[9]

In the 1960s she began a return to her island homeland at Murruŋga, becoming permanently resident in the 1970s.[10]


In 1968, she started a bilingual school under a tree on the island, and it was taken over by NT Education in 1975.[11]

In 1994 she started the Yan-nhaŋu dictionary project with fellow speakers and the anthropologist Bentley James.[12] (Yan-nhangu Dictionary 1994-2003) She continued working with linguist Claire Bowern on expanding the 2003 dictionary to three times its original size. She was instrumental in the compilation of a learner's guide to the language[13] and work on Yan-nhaŋu grammar is on-going.

In 1997 together they introduced Yan-nhaŋu into the bilingual school curriculum.[14]

In 2002 she initiated the Crocodile Islands Rangers, which she personally funded in 2009.[15]

In 2011 she won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the NT Research and Innovation Board for the Crocodile Islands Initiative in honour of her ongoing struggle to save her homelands from administrative closure.

She was the 2012 Senior Australian of the Year,[16] awarded for her "leadership and commitment in caring for the Crocodile Islands biological and cultural environment".

"Laurie used her own money to establish the Crocodile Island Rangers—a volunteer organisation which looks after the land and keeps culture and language strong. In 2010, after a struggle stretching back to 1945, Laurie received back payments for rents owed to her as the land and sea owner of her father's estate. She donated it all, around A$400,000, to improve education and employment opportunities on the islands and to establish a 1,000 square kilometre turtle sanctuary on her marine estate. [...] She wants us all to remain courageous and undaunted in our recognition of the value of cultural differences in creating a future and a nation of which we can all be proud"[17]

Death and legacy[edit]

Laurie died in August 2014. The Crocodile Islands Rangers, which she helped establish, stated "Our wonderful patron sadly passed peacefully away in August 2014".[18] The anthropologist Dr. Bentley James, who worked with her to create the Yan-nhaŋu Atlas and Illustrated Dictionary [19] said on his website,

"The very much adored, and deeply admired paramount matriarch of the Yan-nhaŋu people Laurie Baymarrwaŋa passed peacefully away in her ninety seventh year on Wednesday 20th of August. Her life was inestimable, her virtue remarkable, and her passing bequeaths a fabulous legacy. Born in the time before the coming of the missions, she remembered the old ways, the ways of kin and country. Her dream to entrust this knowledge to new generations as a foundation, a font of strength and counsel in the law, drove her to create a homeland, a school, ranger and heritage programs, marine sanctuaries, language nests and an Atlas among other gifts. Senior Australian of the year 2012, her vast knowledge of generations of social and physical geography was revered by others who themselves are old and wise. To the very end she struggled to save her ocean home from mining and exploitation, unspoiled for future generations. Baymarrwaŋa’s love and generosity for the world is something one rarely sees . . . if only it were more common. A truly great leader, a nurturer, her spirit returns to the homelands that created and compelled her".[20]


  1. ^ James 2012: 12-13At Home on the Waves: Human Habitation of the Sea from the Mesolithic to Today. Fish Traps of the Crocodile Islands. Berghahn Books, New York (In press).
  2. ^ Charles Darwin Climate change symposium, Adaptation Around the Crocodile Islands, Dr Bentley James: Senior Linguist – Crocodile Islands Rangers, Murruŋga Island, Arnhem Land N. T. 2011.
  3. ^ North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Managers Alliance "Crocodile Island Rangers"
    Nekerasov. T. 2011. Working for Culture and Country: Territory Quarterly. 2011, Chief Ministers Department.
  4. ^ "News for Seniors". Australian Government Department of Human Services. Issue 87, May 2012. p. 13
  5. ^ B. James 2009. Time and Tide in the Crocodile Islands: Change and Continuity in Yan-nhangu Marine Identity. PhD Thesis Australian National University. Canberra.
  6. ^ Time and Tide in the Crocodile Islands: Change and Continuity in Yan-nhangu Marine Identity. James, B. 2009.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Donald Fergusson Thomson, OBE (26 June 1901 – 12 May 1970) Australian anthropologist and ornithologist.
  9. ^ Conflict and Conciliation Across Empires: Objects and Performances in Historical Perspective; University of Melbourne Laurie Baymarrwangga, Bentley James & Jane Lydon: ‘The ‚Myalls’ Ultimatum‛: Photography, Diplomacy and Reconciliation’ 17–18 November 2011 Pdf document
  10. ^ Submission to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Those who have cut out the people’s tongue reproach them for their dumbness: The Yan-nhangu Dictionary project 1994-2011-"LANGUAGE LEARNING IN INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES. (19.8.11)
  11. ^ Inaugural Australian National University Alumni lecture, Charles Darwin University Darwin Alumni Reception.
  12. ^ Baymarrwaŋa, L. et al, 2003. Yan-nhaŋu Dictionary 2003. Darwin.
  13. ^ Baymarrwaŋa, L. et al. 2006 Learner's Guide to Yan-Nhaŋu. Milingimbi LPC.
  14. ^ Bowern, C and B. James. 2011: Yan-nhangu language documentation and revitalisation: Hobson, K, Lowe, S Poetsch and Walsh M. Re -Awakening Languages; theory and practice in the revitalisation of Australia’s indigenous languages. Sydney University Press, 362-380.
  15. ^ Pdf document.
  16. ^ ABC report
  17. ^ "News for Seniors". Australian Government Department of Human Services. Issue 87, May 2012. p. 13
  18. ^ [1]
  19. ^
  20. ^

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