Yunupingu farewelled with tears and music – The Guardian

Posted by Google News | Industry News | domingo 30 junio 2013 10:25 am

Australia has said a public farewell to one of the country’s leading indigenous figures, Dr Yunupingu, in a state memorial service attended by hundreds of people from all over the country, and broadcast live on two national television channels.

The memorial was held at Gulkula, north-east Arnhem land – the site of the country’s premier indigenous festival, Garma, which Yunupingu founded with other members of the Yothu Yindi band. The ceremony was attended by the prime minister, Kevin Rudd, and compered by the former education minister Peter Garrett, a friend of the family.

The service was a mixture of celebration and mourning, revisiting the singer’s key achievements in indigenous education, healthcare, politics and music. It included a number of bungul (dances) and a performance from Yunupingu’s nephew Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu.

Many attendees were dressed in yellow ochre, the traditional colours of Yunupingu’s Gumatj clan, in a sign of respect for the deceased elder. It began with a crocodile and rock bungul, headed by members of the Yunupingu family.

In a welcome address, Yunupingu’s brother Djungatjunga paid homage to the Gumatj traditions being shared with the country: «The ceremony you witness today my clan spent many thousands of years, a ceremony that my brother did not forget. It is a ceremony that was always embedded as part of our land.»

The chief minister of the Northern Territory, Adam Giles, paid tribute to a «remarkable territorian». He referred to one of Yunupingu’s most famous tracks, Treaty, written in response to the then prime minister Bob Hawke’s failure to deliver a reconciliation treaty he had pledged to indigenous Australians. It was a song about «holding politicians to account», Giles said. «Too often we politicians have let you down.»

Giles also acknowledged Yunupingu’s public battle with kidney disease, saying: «Dr Yunupingu was a teacher to the end, documenting his struggle with renal disease in the hope that it could help others.»

It was a «tragic reality» that indigenous Australians were four times more likely to die from disease. «His battle should inspire us to all work harder,» Giles said.

Yalmay Yunupingu, widow of the former Australian of the year, wore his famous headband throughout the ceremony. She said it was «the one that my husband took to the world, promoting Yolngu music, languages and culture in his attempt to bring down white Australian’s racism».

«Racism was something he experienced many times in his life,» she said. «Even when he was named as Australian of the year in 1993.»

Yalmay paid tribute to her husband’s record as an educator. He was the first indigenous Australian from Arnhem land to gain a university degree and became the principal of Yirrkala Community School, where he helped pioneer the «both ways» education system, which used traditional Aboriginal teaching methods and language alongside western practices.

She ended her address by quoting her husband from a parliamentary meeting with education officials in 2009. He said: «We learn from our elders that education is sacred … I consider children in Yolngu schools to be as clever as anywhere else in the wider world … they should have equal rights, the same as any in the world.»

The singer Paul Kelly, who collaborated with Yunupingu throughout his career, recalled the artist’s «big beaming smile» and said Yothu Yindi’s music «expressed the duality of their culture. And also the duality of Australian culture in general.

«Their example gave pride and encouragement to indigenous fans all across the country.»

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