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Monday, 17 June 2013
Page: 5977


Mr CREAN (Hotham) (17:15): I too rise to pay my respects and tribute to Mr Yunupingu, who has passed away. It is a pleasure to follow my friend and colleague the member for Lingiari, who has represented the seat in which Mr Yunupingu and his family live. He has not only represented the seat but understood the culture, the issues, the causes and the fights that he has just so eloquently spoken of. It, too, is a mighty reflection of the achievements, but it is nevertheless a sad occasion on which we meet to pay these respects.

My condolences and sympathies also to Mr Yunupingu's wife, his six daughters and his extended family. Mr Yunupingu was a Yolngu man, a member of the Gumatj clan of Arnhem Land. Baru, the saltwater crocodile, was his totem. Baru, in the dreaming, is associated with fire and is the creator of law, justice and order. Baru's journey across the east possessing fire and seeking justice was Mr Yunupingu's journey, a journey that he continues without us.

Yunupingu's legacy is huge. As huge as it is, it is characterised by passion and with reconciliation being at the heart of his achievements. In his music with Yothu Yindi we witnessed his use of the music as a driver of reconciliation. He also used the power of music to educate and to transform. The world was brought into existence through song, for the Yolngu, and with Mr Yunupingu's music the possibility for a new world, a new way of living with one another, was sung.

His passion for music became the instrument through which many Australians, and indeed many peoples the world over, encountered and understood the culture and challenges of Indigenous Australians and the critical need for real reconciliation in this country.

We saw in Mr Yunupingu a vibrancy and a courage in his music. His use of it was to bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians together. He was therefore also an exponent of the broader importance of the arts: the importance of them to Indigenous Australians, not just in terms of an aspiration or vocation, but the passion is here about pride, empowerment, the sharing of culture and respecting the value of Indigenous people and the knowledge of this country.

Through Treaty, Yothu Yindi brought Indigenous music and culture to the world, fostering understanding and challenging necessary conversations nationwide about reconciliation and of race. Mr Yunupingu spoke out against racism, but also of the importance of race. He also spoke of his Yolngu heritage and the many and extraordinary contributions Indigenous Australians have made and can make in this country. He once said that his mission in Yothu Yindi was:

… to demonstrate the pride we take in our culture and our willingness to share ''public'' aspects of it.

This pride, this determination and this spirit of generosity are remembered today.

Prime Minister Keating presented Yunupingu with the Australian of the Year award in 1993, the United Nations International Year of the World's Indigenous People. The fight for reconciliation, of course, was central to the early nineties. Prime Minister Keating delivered the now famous Redfern address in 1992—the year the High Court rejected the concept of terra nullius in the landmark Mabo case decision, which laid the foundation for the Native Title Act, subsequently passed by his government, a government which I was proud to serve in. Mr Yunupingu of course helped in this process. He was a critical part of the momentum that recognised not just the contribution of Indigenous Australians but also the need to make amends for past abuses and to look into the future toward meaningful progress and reconciliation.

Mr Yunupingu may be known internationally as a musician, but he was also an educator. He was one of the first Yolngu people to receive a degree, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts (Education) from Deakin University. He became the first Indigenous man to be appointed a principal. He was promoted to that position in 1990 at the Yirrkala School. As principal, Mr Yunupingu achieved great success in developing new approaches to education. Even after he left his job as a principal to pursue full-time his career in music, he never stopped being an educator. His classroom expanded. His lessons were in song, but Mr Yunupingu still taught in a different and creative way.

People learned of the knowledge of his people. The name of his band, Yothu Yindi, translates, as the member for Lingiari mentioned, as 'child and mother', a meaning that the demonstrates balance. 'Yothu Yindi' expresses a belief system centred on reconciliation—of shared knowledge, of closeness and of support. This belief system was expressed through music, dance and art. Mr Yunupingu founded the Garma Festival, a festival of traditional culture. It is a celebration of Indigenous music and art, and a festival that has grown in size and influence over the years. More than a music festival, Garma is a forum for thinking and speaking about issues related to Aboriginal culture, and for addressing the inequities that exist in this country and the challenges faced by Indigenous Australians. Yunupingu urged us to fight harder for his people, saying:

Those in the corridors of power—be they parliaments, corporations or schools—need to recognise Aboriginal culture and accept it as an intrinsic element of our national identity.

And, of course, we must.

I had the opportunity to meet and work with Mr Yunupingu in several capacities over my time in this parliament. I met him in 1995 in Darwin, when the federal government's Working Nation commitment allowed us to leverage agreement from the Northern Territory for education and training. I had gone to the Northern Territory to seek the views of a number of Indigenous leaders. Mr Yunupingu was one of those leaders. He travelled from Yirrkala to meet me. He supported our cause, and that of educators and communities, to work together on curriculum. We needed to develop curriculum that would directly help Aboriginal children, and improve their literacy and numeracy, and their capacity for future employment. Later, as education minister, Mr Yunupingu critically helped me to understand the importance of Indigenous languages—not just to their education but fundamentally to their culture—and to recognise that the Aboriginal cultures of this country are a necessary part of the curriculum for young Indigenous students, that English language learning was never going to adequately foster a sense of culture, of pride or of innovation in education that was and still is required in Aboriginal communities and, finally, that without the language you cannot properly express culture. These were all important lessons to me that subsequently came to bear on the development of the cultural policy, Creative Australia. But back then in that time with my friend and colleague, the member for Lingiari, I had the privilege to open schools in East Arnhem Land—a significant step not just to reconciliation but to developing that fuller education and cultural experience.

As Minister for Regional Australia, I witnessed the diversity of Indigenous nations across this land and saw the contributions and challenges of Aboriginal Australians. Our multiculturalism, which must include Indigenous cultures, is what makes this country so great. This is something Mr Yunupingu knew intrinsically. He urged us to pursue the course of reconciliation on the streets and on the playing fields, and to listen and learn from the world's oldest culture. Mr Yunupingu lived in two worlds, proudly living the balance of Yothu Yindi and giving us all the very powerful example of what reconciliation needed to be. As I have mentioned, as arts minister, I was proud to work on those concepts and announce our first cultural policy in 20 years. Creative Australia is truly an Australian cultural policy with the unique, diverse and sacred Indigenous cultures at the heart of it. It recognises the significance of Indigenous culture, the need to embrace it, to understand it, to interpret it and to learn from it. Aboriginal languages and cultures must be recognised and fostered in modern society as inspiring and essential aspects of Australian culture, and this is embedded and funded within the policy. I spoke earlier of passions, and, again, it is passion that drives and gives opportunities to young people—to Indigenous young people—and that is what we are seeking to evolve, adapt, encourage and nurture in Creative Australia.

Mr Yunupingu was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame last year. It does remind us how rich we are when we appreciate the great contributions of Indigenous culture and Indigenous Australians. 'Yunupingu' means solid rock, and solid rock he was—a foundation for true reconciliation in this country. Solid rock is also synonymous with reconciliation, through the song written by his friend Shane Howard, memorably performed by Shane's band, Goanna in 1982. Shane was inspired to write the song following a trip to Uluru where he was invited to join a group of Indigenous people from Amaba performing imma, a community ceremony. Shane paid his tribute a fortnight ago, reflecting on his own recent performance at a Sorry Day ceremony and powerfully stated:

There is still a gap between the dream and the reality. There is still no treaty.

So, reconciliation was crucial to Yunupingu, and his contribution to advancing it was huge. He saw the importance of the building of bridges between the cultures that share this land and it is up to us to continue his hugely significant work. In Mr Yunupingu's death, we are reminded that the building of bridges still remains an urgent task. Mr Yunupingu, like so many First Nation people, died of chronic disease. The incidence of chronic disease in Indigenous communities is over double that in non-Indigenous communities.

In Closing the Gap, we are committed to addressing the inequality of health care and living standards for Indigenous Australians. Yunupingu's passing further compels us to do better by the original custodians of this land. As sad as his passing is, it does remind us of the unfinished business. As a legacy to him, our resolve must be strengthened to close the gap and finish the building. Again, my sincere condolences to Mr Yunupingu's family. It is a great loss to the nation, but we are left with a great legacy upon which we must build.