Please note: This article contains the name and image of an Aboriginal person who has passed.
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Vale Yunupingu

The Australia Council wishes to acknowledge the passing of renowned and respected land rights advocate, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture campaigner, and visual artist Yunupingu.

Yunupingu’s last name and image are used here in accordance with the wishes of his family.

Image Credit, Northern Land Council

The Gumatj clan leader, senior Yolngu lore man, keeper of songlines and protector of sites of significance, businessman, and Chairman of the Yothu Yindi Foundation has died after a long illness. 

Yunupingu was the son of the respected cultural leader, political activist and artist Munggurrawuy Yunupingu and brother to the late Nancy Gaymala Yunupingu, Mandawuy Yunupingu AC (Australian of the Year 1992), Ms N Yunupingu, and Ms Yunupingu (Djotarra). 

Coming from a dynasty of remarkable cultural leaders, political activists, renowned artists and social justice campaigners, he was bound for greatness and did in fact emerge as one of Australia’s major cultural reformers. 

For many decades Yunupingu was a powerful advocate for self-determination for Yolngu people and a driving force behind advancing Aboriginal rights. He gave a lifetime of unwavering, passionate leadership and support for Community. A loyal friend to many, Yunupingu was driven by a vision for a better future for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 

His tireless commitment over land rights brought recognition in the form of the Australian of the Year Award in 1978 and being named one of the National Trust of Australia’s national living treasures in 1998.  

More recently, Yunupingu received the University of Melbourne’s highest academic honour, an Honorary Doctor of Laws, in recognition of his “relentless struggle for land rights and advocacy for the agency of his people”.  

Executive Director, First Nations Art and Culture, Franchesca Cubillo said: 

“It is for his cultural advocacy that Yunupingu will long be revered. The sharing and teaching of his culture to the world, and passing on of knowledge for the next generations, stand him out as a giant of cultural expression.”  

As one of the founders of the Yothu Yindi Foundation, alongside other Yolngu leaders, and serving as its long-term chairman, Yunupingu founded the Garma Festival at Gulkula in north-east Arnhem Land.  

The 4-day festival celebrates Yolngu life and culture, and showcases art, song, dance, and storytelling. It has become Australia’s largest Indigenous gathering, playing a key role in bringing people together to advance awareness and understanding through cultural immersion.  

It was at last year’s Garma festival that Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met with Yunupingu and delivered a landmark speech on the referendum on a Voice to Parliament. Even in the very late stages of his life, Yunupingu was advocating and influencing for a better future.  

We extend our thoughts and deepest sympathy to his family, the Gumatj clan, his friends, and the Yirrkala and Yolngu communities of north-east Arnhem Land.