Indigenous musician Yunupingu dies at 46

Contributed by Jim Hayes

Renowned singer-songwriter Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu passed away in the Royal Darwin Hospital yesterday, after a long battle with kidney and liver disease following childhood hepatitis B.

Yunupingu was an indigenous native of Arnhem Land, who made a mark as a champion of his people through music. He sang, using a mixture of English and Yolngu, his native language.

The musician  was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Music by the University of Sydney in 2012, for an outstanding contribution to music.

But it was his extraordinary ability to connect across the Australian community and across the world, and ability to use this to raise the understanding of Indigenous Australia that was his greatest contribution.

After being nominated nine times, he was finally named the Northern Territory’s Australian of the Year in 2009.  And only last year was honoured as artist of the Year at the NAIDOC Awards. His daughter Jasmine, who received the award for him, praised her father as “a great role model.

“He’s made all his family and community proud,” she said

Sadly, suggestions have been made that Yunupingu have been racially profiled at the hospital and denied proper treatment. The hospital has denied this. But whatever the truth, it remains that Indigenous Australians are often profiled and mistreated, because of the colour of their skin and cultural identity. Yunupingu stood against this.

Far too many of this land’s original inhabitants die at a far too young age, from dispossession, poverty, discrimination and continuing powerlessness and mistreatment. In his own way, Yunupingu fought against these wrongs and worked to bring us all together to make a difference.

There is still a long way to go, before his people finally win control over their own lives and the right to build their own future.

This is the business of all Australians. Yunupingu helped to show us that we all have something to gain from the rise of indigenous society.


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