10 May 2023
I join with the Prime Minister in honouring the life of Yunupingu AM.
The measure of a man is the worth of the things he cares about. Yunupingu cared about many things:
He cared about his Yolngu people.
He cared about his and their land.
He cared about justice.
In 1963, when he helped draft the Yirrkala Bark Petitions with his father and uncle, Yunupingu made people, land and justice his life’s mission.
In his advocacy for advancing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land rights, he was a pioneer who changed our nation.
Indeed, his courage and commitment made him a trailblazer who inspired many after him.
And indeed, many to this day.
Without the Yirrkala Bark Petitions there would have been no Gove Land Rights Case in 1971.
Without that case there would have been no Aboriginal Land Rights Act in 1976.
Without that Act there would have been no Mabo Case in ‘92.
And without Mabo there would have been no Native Title Act in 1993.
Interviewed for The Bulletin in 1990, Yunupingu spoke strongly about his disdain for handouts.
About the infantilising tendency of government.
And about the need for Aboriginal communities to have greater agency.
‘Aboriginal people don’t want white fellas telling them, ‘You will do this, you will not do that’… We’ve had enough pushing and shoving.’
Yunupingu wanted independence for his people, seeing his people as the source of salvation, solutions and self-determination.
It was that fierce desire which saw Yunupingu lead social and economic initiatives to empower his people in East Arnhem Land.
He established the bauxite mine in 2017 – the first mine to be Indigenously owned and run in Australia.
He started businesses which saw his people provided with employment opportunities.
And he helped found the Dhupuma Barker school in 2021.
After it’s opening, Yunupingu drove around the local area.
Wherever he came across children, he would tell them about it passionately.
‘Go to school. Go to school every day’ – he would say with his warm, encouraging and nurturing presence.
Combining an Australian curriculum and traditional Yolngu teachings, the school has achieved outstanding rates of attendance at around 90 per cent.
When I visited Arnhem Land in February, the influence of Yunupingu was omnipresent in the community.
Indeed, the progress one sees in Gove in the Top End reminds us of what can be for people in other Indigenous communities.
Yunupingu’s presence will always be felt in what he built.
In what he did.
In Arnhem Land.
In the Northern Land Council.
Across the nation.
On the day of his passing – and in the days since – thousands of tributes are testimony to the nature and to the measure of the man.
He has rightly been described as ‘a giant’, ‘a titan’, ‘a national treasure’.
As ‘wise’, ‘widely respected’, and ‘a beacon of inspiration’.
As a ‘strong, deep and practical’ man.
And as ‘one of the greatest Indigenous leaders modern Australia has produced.
Indeed, having received the highest of accolades our country can bestow being named an Australian of the Year and made a Member of the Order of Australia.
He is not just a great Indigenous Australian, but one of our greatest Australians.
And he left our world too early.
But he would have taken comfort in the fact that he did so on his land and among his people for whom he fought his entire life.
Earlier this week, in fact last week, there was an article which I’d refer you to.
Last Friday on the 5th of May in The Australian newspaper and it had a photo of Shaun Yunupingu.
And he was in Dallas at the World Championship Robotics.
It’s an incredible legacy.
I met Shaun who was an inspirational young man, and his fellow students who were working on that program.
Robotics. On a robotics program to internationally compete to be the best in the world.
That is the legacy of this man.
As a Parliament today, we acknowledge a great life and an even greater legacy.
We remember a man who was deeply respected by all sides of politics and all the prime ministers with whom he engaged.
On behalf of the Coalition, I offer my heartfelt condolences to Yunupingu’s family.
To the Yolngu people.
To all Indigenous Australians.
May he rest in peace.