Newsletter Subscribe
Australian Catholics Subscribe

Dadirri: Deep listening

Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr  |  14 October 2019

Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr is an Elder from Nauiyu (Daly River), Northern Territory. She was the first Aboriginal woman to become a qualified teacher in the state, and served for many years as principal of the local Catholic school. She now spends her time working to empower Indigenous youth through education, art, culture and opportunity through the Miriam Rose Foundation.

Last year, she spoke with Fatima Measham for the Eureka Street Chattersquare podcast about her people’s concept of dadirri. Here is what she shared.

Dadirri is quiet, still awareness – deep listening. It’s the thing that makes up who we are as Aboriginal people, spiritually.

It’s not just an Aboriginal thing, everybody has it. It’s just that people haven’t been made aware that they have this unique thing, I guess.

You listen on the outer, and you listen on the inner. To people that are talking to you, that are in need, that are telling you things. We listen more than talk. We think and we feel more. It’s to do with us taking in what that person might be concerned about, or telling us an important story.

It also helps you listen to nature. Being in touch with the land around you, and the surroundings. To the birds. I suppose probably not so easy if you’re in the city.

* * *

I’m always looking out the window when I’m listening to people talking. There’s always birds, out there picking up the crumbs from morning tea out on the patio. Or birds flying past. Looking for a sign of rain, or a sign of when the sun’s going to come out again.

Listening is also preparing you for better things.

* * *

Listening and seeing, and there’s that feeling too. Aboriginal people don’t talk much, but they feel more, generally.

* * *

I suppose it comes into the survival, I suppose, of who you are. Our race has been here for 60,000 or more years. You have to be in rhythm with the land, to be able to survive. To get your food. To live off the land.
There were times when you had listen for certain noises, certain sounds, if you were stalking something. When we were kids, our parents used to say, ‘Dadirri.’ Listen. Be silent. Be aware.

* * *

You hear the priest say, ‘Remember you are dust and into dust you shall return’. We’re part of the land. We belong to it. We don’t own it. It owns us. And we have to be in rhythm with it throughout our lifetime.

It gives us heaps of things, but we’ve also got to look after it. And be aware of it at all times.

* * *

The Westerners have four seasons. There’s only two up in the Territory. But in between those two there’s many seasons that we have. And there are times when we do notice that these things are a bit slow coming on, when it comes to bush tucker, or hunting and foraging. Or even just the water or the rain. Whether it’s a good season or not a good season. Whether certain trees are flowering, or whether they’re going to bear fruit. You notice all the time some of the changes that people are talking about in the wider community.

* * *

I know sometimes it’s hard for people, especially if you live in places such as the city. You have to keep up with everybody, and you’re controlled by the time. But sometimes you end up getting sick from just rushing around.

You’re the only person like you on the face of the world. There’s no other person like you. There are times you have to be appreciative of who you are. And be thankful that you’re here, and with what you have – your family, where you belong, and where you are in this place.

* * *

There has to be an awakening within ourselves, within you, to enable you to realise, to help you slow down. People make time to go and exercise and go for walks, why not use that time to help yourself to slow down.

For the full interview, see Eureka Street.

For more on Miriam-Rose, dadirri, and her work to support Indigenous youth, go to

Image: Night sky over Hayden –


Request permissions to reuse this article

Interested in more? Sign up to our weekly Catholic Teacher and Parish Life e-newsletters for the faith formation resources you need.

Catholic Teacher sign-up

Parish Life sign-up

This website uses cookies to give you the best, most relevant experience.

Using this website means you are okay with this.

You can change your cookies settings at any time and find out more about them by following this link