Yunupingu will be remembered for what he gave

Mandawuy Djarrtjuntjun Yunupingu fronting Yothu Yindi. His family have given permission for his images to be published.

Contributed by Adam Carlton

Australians from all walks of life are paying tribute to the indigenous leader and musician Mandawuy Djarrtjuntjun Yunupingu. So they should. Yesterday saw Prime Minister Anthony Albanese honour the life of this remarkable Australian, born in Arnhem Land, of the Gumaji people, and raised in an aboriginal Reserve in the northern Territory. In 1993 he was named Australian of the year, and as the long-term chair of the Northern Land Council (NLC).

He passed away from kidney failure on 2 April.

Other leaders across the political spectrum have been doing the same. This is really something. It is, of course, his own people that will mourn the most.

The flag of Australia’s Frist Nations except the Torres Straight Islanders

Throughout his life, Mandawuy fought for justice for his people and was a leading advocate of the movement for Treaty, as the means to achieve sovereignty and self-determination. His music was applied to this task with rare skill.

Among those who are paying tribute to him today, there are those who never got the message, and they still don’t. They never supported what he stood for. For this group of political leaders, the outward show is no more than a photo opportunity for the purpose of making them look good.  

On this occasion we should put the opportunists aside and note that there are many more who genuinely recognised the man’s worth and his message. Who can forget hits with Yothu Yindi like Freedom, One Blood, and Treaty, which played a significant part in changing the national attitude towards the First Australians.

The best way to pay tribute to the legacy of this remarkable man is to continue his cause. This is primarily a matter for his people. It should also be a matter for the rest of us. We can’t reach our potential as a nation until reconciliation, on the foundation of treaty agreements with the fifty plus Frist Nations. Treaties would empower the peoples of these nations to become masters of their own future.

This will pave the way for national unity as equals and give rise to a new concept of what it means to be Australian, defined as being part of a culture of diversity but united in the common goal  of what we aspire to. A nation where all are treated equally, while respecting the needs of all. Genuine reconciliation is the road to empowering us all.

Mandawuy Djarrtjuntjun Yunupingu’s death is a terrible blow to those close to him and a loss to Australia. He will be remembered as an important leader. One who set the example that all of us should follow.

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