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Tuesday, 4 June 2013
Page: 5274


Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (21:47): 'A trailblazer'—this fitting description from my colleague, the shadow minister for indigenous affairs, Senator Nigel Scullion, encapsulates an Australian icon whose passing we acknowledge and mourn. Mr Yunupingu was a leader who helped the Yolngu people of North-East Arnhem Land and demonstrated to them and to the nation just what an education can help you achieve. He was the first Aboriginal Australian from Arnhem Land to obtain a university degree and continued his passion for education right throughout his life. He was appointed school principal of the Yirrkala Community School in 1990—the first Aboriginal man to do so.

To most Australians—certainly those of the Riverina, who join in our sorrow at his passing at just 56 years of age this week—he was the lead singer of the iconic Aboriginal band Yothu Yindi, which brought us such hits as Treaty. He won eight separate ARIA awards throughout his career, including Song of the Year for Treaty with Yothu Yindi in 1992. Theirs was the story of vibrant culture and a proud people, which was rightfully acknowledged by Yothu Yindi's induction into the ARIA Hall of Fame just last year. For a generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, our first Australians, Yothu Yindi and Mr Yunupingu brought to the nation's attention the critical issues of Aboriginal health and education, which remain challenges today. Yothu Yindi consists of both Yolngu, Aboriginal, and balanda, non-Aboriginal, musicians and embodies a share of cultures. When he was named Australian of the Year in 1992, Mr Yunupingu's dedication to building bridges between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians and the sharing of cultures that Yothu Yindi seeks to highlight was recognised.

In addition to his achievements in education, Mr Yunupingu co-founded the Yothu Yindi Foundation and helped start the influential policy forum known as the Garma Festival. But, more than this, he captured the hearts of the nation and brought their attention to the Yolngu people. It is for this the nation will most likely remember a proud representative of a proud people. It is right we stop as the nation's parliament tonight and acknowledge Mr Yunupingu's remarkable contribution to Australian life.