Legislative Council: Wednesday, May 17, 2023


Matters of Interest

Yunupingu, Dr G.

The Hon. T.T. NGO (15:19): On 3 April 2023, Australia mourned the passing of a truly remarkable man. I rise today to speak about the passion behind Dr Yunupingu, also known as Galarrwuy Yunupingu AM. Dr Yunupingu was born in North-East Arnhem Land on 30 June 1948. He was a member of the Gumatj clan of the Yolngu nation.

This extraordinary man's lifelong mission was to see our Indigenous Australians have the same level of wellbeing and life opportunities as non-Indigenous Australians. Yunupingu sought to improve the relationship between Australians and our Indigenous people because he knew that if we improved the treatment of all First Nations people, then their lives would be better and Australia could heal.

He recognised education and a sense of community as being powerful tools for empowerment. For this reason, he passionately fought against discrimination and became a tireless advocate for Indigenous education, as he believed it would lead his people to take control of their own lives. Yunupingu's activism began when he helped his father and uncle draft the Yirrkala Bark Petitions in 1963 when he was 15.

The challenge for customary law and native title rights over land was not successful; however, it was the first case in commonwealth history in which First Nations people declared native title rights and challenged mining company leases. It contributed to the setting up of the Whitlam government's Woodward royal commission. This inquiry sought ways to recognise Aboriginal land rights in the Northern Territory and Yunupingu served on this commission as an adviser.

In 1975, Yunupingu worked with then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser on what would become the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. This legislation gave Indigenous people in the Northern Territory the right to claim land that was traditionally owned by their ancestors. For the following 23 years, he served as chair of the Northern Land Council.

Yunupingu was the founding member and chair of the Yothu Yindi Foundation. He was the elder brother of Mandawuy, lead singer of the Yothu Yindi band. Yunupingu sometimes played bilma and guitar in the band. Its fusion of contemporary rock and Indigenous music raised awareness of Aboriginal culture and brought Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians together.

Yunupingu's tireless activism and relentless campaigning, as well as his contributions spanning across music and the arts, will always be an inspiration. His legacy is one of hope, resilience and an unwavering commitment to justice. It was noted that just before PM Bob Hawke's role ended in December 1991, while he and Yunupingu stood before the Yirrkala Bark paintings in Parliament House, Bob Hawke said, and I quote:

Its presence here calls on those who follow me; it demands of them that they continue efforts, that they find solutions to the abundant problems that still face Aboriginal people of this country.

Several prime ministers later, we will have a referendum asking Australians nothing more than to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people the constitutional right of a Voice. Yunupingu understood the connections between Australia's social and political structures. With wisdom, humility and courage, he sought to ensure our nation is one of truth and inclusivity.

The principles of the Voice align with truth and inclusivity. The Voice referendum is the means by which all Australians can formally agree that our First Nations people deserve to be included in the process of genuine collaboration. I express the deepest condolences to Dr Yunupingu's family and colleagues and know that his spirit is embedded in our history forever.