Statement by Peter Yu - Vale Yunupingu

04 Apr 2023


The Passing of a Great Australian

I wish to share with First Nations people and Australians everywhere my deepest sorrow for the passing of Yunupingu.

The moving statements released by his family, Yothu Yindi Foundation and Gumatj Corporation lists his extraordinary accomplishments throughout his life. They speak for themselves. He was a monumental figure in Australian public life.

That Australia today is at a critical point in its historic journey of Reconciliation owes so much to the lifetime commitment of Yunupingu. He has had a central role in the key milestones in Australia's arduous passage from colonisation; the Yirrkala Bark Petitions, Gove Land Rights Case, the Northern Territory Land Rights Act, the Barunga Statement, the Native Title Act, the Voice and Uluru Statement and the Garma Festival.

In my view, no other single figure has so profoundly epitomised the collective sense of First Nation identity across this nation.  He was the cultural and political conscience of our struggle for political and legal recognition for more than six decades. It is difficult to find the words to describe his profound importance to First Nations people.

Yunupingu had the ability to draw on his deeply rooted Yolngu cultural traditions to articulate a narrative inclusive of all First Nations which impacted on Australian mainstream politics.

The essence of his political power and influence was his personal integrity and his principled stand to defend and protect First Nations traditional culture. He consistently encouraged dialogue about how the rights and interest of First Nations people could coexist in the modern Australian State. 

It was Yunupingu's integrity and principles that earned him such widespread respect among First Nations people throughout Australia and why every Prime Minister from Whitlam to Albanese engaged him with respect; an engagement that often promised so much and delivered so little. Yet he never wavered in his commitment to dialogue.

Prime Minister Albanese told him at Garma last year that this time the Australian Government would deliver on its promise. Yunupingu's legacy is his tireless work that produced the Uluru Statement.