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Statement on the passing of Yunupingu

Yunupingu walked in two worlds with authority, power and grace, and he worked to make them whole — together.

What he could see was not the reinvention of Australia, but the realisation of a greater one.

With his passing, consider what we have lost.

A leader. A statesman.

A painter. A dancer. A singer and musician who always carried his father’s clapsticks and felt the power they carried within them.

Australian of the Year in 1978. Member of the Order of Australia. National treasure.

A remarkable member of a remarkable family.

A great Yolngu man. A great Australian.

A man who stood tall in his beloved country, and worked to lift our entire continent in the process.

Yunupingu understood a fundamental truth: if you want to make your voice count, you have to make sure that it’s heard.

He made sure with the sheer power of his advocacy for land rights.

He made sure when he helped draft the Yirrkala Bark Petitions, which delivered such a powerful message that resounded within the walls of the nation’s Parliament.

And he made sure when he took part in that masterclass of concise and — he hoped — unifying eloquence, the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

As he put it:

​“At Uluru we started a fire, a fire we hope burns bright for Australia.”

At Garma last year, after I announced the details of the referendum, he asked me, “Are you serious this time?” I replied: “Yes, we’re going to go for it.”

When I spoke with him just over a week ago, I told him I was confident we would get there. This brought him some comfort, as did his totems of fire and baru, the saltwater crocodile, which watched over him in his final days.

Now Yunupingu is gone, but the gurtha — the great tongue of flame and truth with which spoke to us — is still with us. As it burns away all that is superfluous and false, it lights the path ahead for us.

Just as he saw what was going on around him with great clarity, he was crystalline when he turned his gaze within.

In his own words:

“My inner life is that of the Yolngu song cycles, the ceremonies, the knowledge, the law and the land. This is yothu yindi. Balance. Wholeness. Completeness.

A world designed in perfection, founded on the beautiful simplicity of a mother and her newborn child; as vibrant and as dynamic as the estuary where the saltwaters meet the freshwaters, able to give you everything you need.”

He belongs to all of that now.

Our hearts go out especially to the Yolngu, the Gumatj clan, and the great Yunupingu family.

To all who loved him, to all who were moved by him, to all there who have gazed out to where the Gulf of Carpentaria meets the sky.

We will never again hear his voice anew, but his words – and his legacy – will keep speaking to us.

Yunupingu now walks in another place, but he has left such great footsteps for us to follow here in this one.

*Photo approved for public use by the family.

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Electorate Office

334a Marrickville Rd
Marrickville NSW 2204

Phone: 02 9564 3588

Parliament House Office

Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Phone: 02 6277 7700

Phone: (02) 9564 3588
Fax: (02) 9564 1734

We acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which our offices stand and we pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging. We acknowledge the sorrow of the Stolen Generations and the impacts of colonisation on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. We also recognise the resilience, strength and pride of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Authorised by Anthony Albanese. 334a Marrickville Rd, Marrickville NSW 2204.

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