NAIDOC Week: M Yunupingu

NAIDOC Week 2019 - Remembering Yothu Yindi singer M Yunupingu

Remembering the Yothu Yindi lead singer
 Adam Blackshaw

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are advised that the following article contains the names, images and voices of deceased persons.

The theme of NAIDOC Week 2019 is 'Voice – Treaty – Truth'. We remember the voice of the hit song 'Treaty', the lead singer of Yothu Yindi.

NAIDOC Week is a national celebration for all Australians of the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The theme for 2019 is Voice – Treaty – Truth. This year is also the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages and we are highlighting the contribution made by a great Aboriginal Australian voice, that of musician and educator M Yunupingu.

Australian of the Year

On 26 January 1993, the National Australia Day Council named M Yunupingu as Australian of the Year for 1992. In this clip from the NFSA's TV News and Current Affairs collection, he receives his award from Prime Minister Paul Keating:

M Yunupingu receives the Australian of the Year award from Prime Minister Paul Keating, 1993. Courtesy: Network Ten. NFSA title:218333

Yothu Yindi

For most Australians, M Yunupingu is remembered as the founding member and singer-songwriter for the band Yothu Yindi.

Yothu Yindi formed in 1986 and from 1988 to 2000 released six albums and won eight ARIA Awards. In 2012 they were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame.

The band's biggest hit 'Treaty', from the 1991 album Tribal Voice, was voted song of the year by APRA (Australasian Performing Right Association) and was included in the NFSA's Sounds of Australia in 2009.

The song was performed at both the closing ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympics and the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games.

Role model and educator

M Yunupingu received a number of awards in recognition of his work outside of the music industry. In 1990 he became the principal of Yirrkala Community School, helped establish the Yolngu Action Group and introduced the Both Ways system, recognising traditional Aboriginal teaching alongside Western methods.

Here he speaks to students at James Cook University in Townsville in 1993 about the way forward for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians:

M Yunupingu speaking at James Cook University, 1993. Courtesy: Townsville Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporation for Media. NFSA title:1052281

In 1998 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Queensland University of Technology and in the 2014 Australia Day Honours, he was posthumously awarded a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC). 

NAIDOC Week at the NFSA

The NFSA is celebrating NAIDOC Week 2019 with films about two other inspirational Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander figures, Adam Goodes and Ella Havelka. Check our Inspiring Voices program for details.

Also when you visit us in Canberra don't miss the immersive VR experience Carriberrie, a guided journey into the world of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander song and dance, which closes on 21 July.

You can also explore new curated collections on this website dedicated to more Indigenous Sounds of Australia and also short films made by Indigenous filmmakers like Wayne Blair, Warwick Thornton and Beck Cole.