Yolŋu leader Laurie Baymarrwaŋa is the inspiration for the 2019 AIATSIS International Women's Day poster.

7 March 2019

Laurie Baymarrwaŋa or Big Boss as she was affectionately known, was born on the island of Murruŋga, largest of the outer Crocodile Islands 500km east of Darwin in North-East Arnhem Land around 1917.

She was instrumental in preserving the endangered Yan-nhaŋu language and all its intimate ancestral knowledge, linked to her seas and island homelands, for future generations.

The International Year for Indigenous Languages is the ideal time to reflect on her achievements.

Big Boss started a school, ranger program, junior rangers, language nests, dictionary, mapping project and an Atlas with her own funds, to provide younger generations their priceless ancestral heritage.

In 2012, Laurie Baymarrwaŋa was named both Senior Northern Territory Australian of the Year and Senior Australian of the Year for her lifelong commitment to educating others about culture and language.

Laurie was the last fluent speaker of Yan-nhaŋu and spent her last 20 years creating a three language dictionary and Atlas with co-worker and friend Bentley James. The Atlas maps 600 names sites, songs, stories and local knowledge.

A wonderful project to honour her work continues in The Illustrated Handbook of Yolŋu Sign Language of North East Arnhem Land. This project documents, celebrates, illustrates and teaches this endangered Indigenous language in full colour and will be distributed for free to the children.

Nhaŋu dhäŋuny yuwalkthana Yolŋu miṯṯji marŋgimana dhana mayili mana dhäŋuny mana limalama ganatjirri maramba barrathalayuma gurrku mana waŋgalaŋga.’

‘We will pass on the stories (wisdom) of our sea country for the new generations to make them strong.’

Laurie Baymarrwaŋa, 1999.

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