Laurie Baymarrwangga

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Laurie Baymarrwangga (Baymarrwaŋa)
Borncirca 1917
Murruŋga Island, Australia
Died20 August 2014
OccupationIndigenous Tribal Elder
Known forIntergenerational transmission of cultural knowledge and heritage, preservation of biological heritage, preservation of traditional languages.

Laurie Baymarrwangga (Gawany) Baymarrwaŋa (c. 1917 – 20 August 2014) was born 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 the Rev Harold Shepperdson on Milingimbi in 1925[8] and then by Donald Thomson on Murrungga island in April, 1937.[9] She survived the World War II Japanese bombing of Milingimbi in 1943.[10]

In the 1960s she began a return to her island homeland at Murruŋga, becoming permanently resident in the 1970s.[11]


In 1968, she started a bilingual school under a tree on the island, and it was taken over by NT Education in 1975.[12][13]

In 1993 she started the Yan-nhaŋu dictionary project with fellow speakers and the anthropologist Bentley James.[14] (Yan-nhangu Dictionary 1994-2003) In her late eighties and with no English Baymarrwaŋa worked in Yolŋu matha with Bentley, and together they visited and recorded the first Yan-nhaŋu maps (600 sites).[15]

With barely 250 Yan-nhaŋu words recorded they began the Yan-nhaŋu dictionary team (1993-4) preparing the first Yan-nhaŋu dictionary, first ethnography, and using self-generated funds, created a family of lasting collaborative projects.[15]

Side by side they created, conceived, designed and ran the earliest Crocodile Islands Rangers and junior rangers programs, an on-line (talking-pictorial) trilingual dictionary for homelands schools, multi-generational ‘Language Nests’ project, heritage protection projects on the fish-traps, fresh water wells, fire regimes, creating cultural artefacts, and care for and registration of sacred sites on the Crocodile Islands.[16]

Claire Bowern compiled a learner's guide to the language[17] Together Baymarrwaŋa and Bentley wrote the Yan-nhaŋu Atlas and Illustrated Dictionary of the Crocodile Islands with over four thousand Yan-nhaŋu words translated into Dhuwal/Dhuwala and English for children speaking Yolŋu and English. The Yan-nhaŋu Atlas and Illustrated Dictionary seeks to provide opportunities for new generations to know the language of place and walk in the footsteps of the ancestors. Together they handed out the atlas to over thirty homelands, twelve schools and hundreds of libraries Australia wide. The generosity and vision of this project spring naturally from the wisdom of kinship and reciprocity that are at the heart indigenous relations to country.[18]

The Yan-nhaŋu dictionary team continues work on Yan-nhaŋu grammar.[19][20]

In 1997 together Baymarrwaŋa and Bentley introduced Yan-nhaŋu into the bilingual school curriculum.[21]

In 2002 she initiated the Crocodile Islands Rangers, which she personally funded in 2009.[22] They conceived of and negotiated the creation of a turtle sanctuary and were working towards a plan to feed local children everyday with local fish caught and distributed by local rangers, ‘Lima gurrku guya riya-gunhanyini ŋalimalamagu gurruṯuwaygu : We will share our fish with our kin. (Baymarrwaŋa 2002) [23]

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 care for the linguistic, culutral and biological diverstity of her homelands and save them from administrative closure.[24]

She was the 2012 Senior Australian of the Year,[25] awarded for her "leadership and commitment in caring for the Crocodile Islands biological and cultural environment".

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.[26] 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".[4]

The film about her life won a posthumous award from the United Nations Peace Prize for Indigenous Film. 2015.[15]

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".[27] The anthropologist Dr. Bentley James, who worked with her to create the Yan-nhaŋu Atlas and Illustrated Dictionary [28] 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".[29]


  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" Archived 21 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
    Nekerasov. T. 2011. Working for Culture and Country: Territory Quarterly. 2011, Chief Ministers Department.
  4. ^ a b "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. ^ "Documentation and description of endangered languages". Retrieved 11 June 2018.
  8. ^ Baymarrwaŋa collecting water at Miliŋimbi in 1925 by the Rev Harold Shepherdson‘Bapa Sheppi’ c005890045h. Courtesy of the Mitchell Library NSW. James, Bentley & North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance Ltd (2016) Maypal, Mayali’ ga Wäŋa: Shellfish, Meaning & Place.A Yolŋu Bilingual Identification Guide to Shellfish of North East Arnhem Land. NAILSMA Ltd.
  9. ^ Donald Fergusson Thomson, OBE (26 June 1901 – 12 May 1970) Australian anthropologist and ornithologist.
  10. ^ 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
  11. ^ 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)
  12. ^ Inaugural Australian National University Alumni lecture, Charles Darwin University Darwin Alumni Reception.
  13. ^ Baymarrwaŋa, L. James, B. and the Yan-nhaŋu dictionary team, 2007. Gokuluyu Mana Bulthunway, Yan-nhaŋu hand signs of the Crocodile Islands. Unpublished notes.
  14. ^ Baymarrwaŋa, L. et al, 2003. Yan-nhaŋu Dictionary 2003. Darwin.
  15. ^ a b c ‘Big Boss Last Leader of the Crocodile Islands: Buŋgawa bathala rom ḏäl ga rälpa ḏumurru’. Year: 2015. NITV; Runtime: 53 min, Directed By: Paul Sinclair, Produced By: Jade Sinclair Matt Dwyer, Language: Yan-nhangu language, English subtitles
  16. ^ ‘Big Boss Race Against Time.’ Year: 2011. Mirrimirri Films and ATOM, Runtime: 26 min, Directed By: Paul Sinclair, Produced By: Jade Sinclair Matt Dwyer, Language: Yan-nhangu language, English subtitles; Work guide for students 20p PDF. Australian teachers of media
  17. ^ Baymarrwaŋa, L. et al. 2006 Learner's Guide to Yan-Nhaŋu. Milingimbi LPC.
  18. ^ Baymarrwaŋa, L, and B, James. 2014. Yan-nhaŋu Atlas and Illustrated Dictionary of the Crocodile Islands. Tien wah press, Singapore & Sydney Australia
  19. ^ Baymarrwaŋa, L., James, B., Barraṯawuy, M and the Yan-nhaŋu Dictionary Team. Forthcoming. The Yan-nhaŋu Grammar.
  20. ^ ‘Crocodile Islands Rangers.’ Year: 2010. Mirrimirri Films, Runtime: 26 min, Directed By: Paul Sinclair, Produced By: Jade Sinclair Matt Dwyer, Language: Yan-nhangu language, English subtitles
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ Pdf document.
  23. ^ "Dr Bentley James". Dr Bentley James. Retrieved 11 June 2018.
  24. ^ Internet, Chirp. "BIG BOSS - Ronin Films - Educational DVD Sales". Retrieved 11 June 2018.
  25. ^ "ABC report". Retrieved 11 June 2018.
  26. ^ Anthropological report to NLC B.James 2004
  27. ^ "About Us - Crocodile Islands Rangers". 13 August 2015. Archived from the original on 2015-08-13. Retrieved 11 June 2018.
  28. ^ "Yan-nhangu Atlas and Dictionary by Bree Blakeman". 13 August 2015. Archived from the original on 2015-08-13. Retrieved 11 June 2018.
  29. ^ "Dr Bentley James | The value of cultural difference". Retrieved 2018-06-11.

External links[edit]