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Wednesday, 9 May 2012
Page: 4442

Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (12:51): James Oswald Little, known across the nation as 'Uncle Jimmy', was a true Australian hero and music legend. We gather here today to mourn Jimmy's passing on 2 April, after losing his long battle with kidney disease.

He was born at the Cummeragunja mission on the New South Wales-Victorian border in 1937. Just under 18 years later, he commenced his recording career with Regal Zonophone. It was an extraordinary achievement for a 17-year-old, particularly as he was one of the first Indigenous Australians to top the music charts in an industry that was dominated at the time by Anglo Australians.

For five decades, he continued to sing and produce popular songs and albums, including Royal Telephone, Winterwood, Messenger, Danny Boy and Baby Blue, plus perform numerous plays on stage. Whilst he is often believed to have been solely a country singer, his remarkable talents enabled him to perform reggae, gospel, alternative rock, Aboriginal music and sixties pop.

Through his pursuit of music, he increasingly became a role model for Indigenous youth, and established a music mentoring program in Redfern from 1985. An endearing and selfless personality with a 'velvet voice', Little was appropriately recognised by the Australian music industry and others for his unique contribution to music and the Indigenous community. He was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame, received honorary doctorates from three Australian universities and was awarded the Order of Australia.

One of his greatest achievements was the establishment of the Jimmy Little Foundation to improve renal health amongst Indigenous Australians. He himself suffered from kidney failure from 2002 until he received a life-saving transplant. Even during daily kidney dialysis treatment, he continued to perform and mentor young Indigenous people. It is little wonder that he is affectionately known as Australia's 'Uncle Jimmy'. His selflessness and eternal optimism characterised our 'Uncle Jimmy'. He was a national Australian treasure, whose legacy as a music performer and Indigenous ambassador should endure, as well as his incredible sense of humanity.

In recent years Jimmy worked closely with Medicines Australia to support Indigenous health in Australia. Medicines Australia provided $770,000 in funding to support the Jimmy Little Foundation deliver its Thumbs Up! healthy-eating campaign targeting children in remote Aboriginal communities, promoting the notion of 'healthy tucker—long life'. Encouraging healthier food choices assists to reduce the terrible burden of diabetes and kidney disease, an issue obviously close to Uncle Jimmy's heart. Children and young people were chosen as the primary target group of this program to foster the development of healthy eating behaviours at an early age to improve health and educational outcomes and prevent the development of chronic health conditions such as diabetes later in life.

After Jimmy's passing, Medicines Australia's Chief Executive, Dr Brendan Shaw, made the following statement:

The death of Jimmy Little … marks the passing of a truly great Australian. Jimmy was not only a supremely talented musician and entertainer, he was a passionate advocate for indigenous health.

Medicines Australia was extremely fortunate to work with him through the Jimmy Little Foundation to help promote the importance of healthy food choices in remote indigenous communities, particularly among children.

Jimmy was driven by a single-minded determination to ensure the Foundation made a meaningful difference to the lives of indigenous Australians.

While his passing is extremely sad, the Jimmy Little Foundation is a fitting monument to a lifetime devoted to helping other indigenous Australians and will long continue to make a real difference to the lives of many living in remote communities.

Medicines Australia extends its condolences to Jimmy’s family.

Uncle Jimmy will be mourned and missed by people, not just music fans, all over our nation. I must say that as a very young person watching Bandstand in the sixties I thought Jimmy Little was a great guy and sang beautifully.