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Galarrwuy Yunupingu, AM (born 30 June 1948) is a leader in the Australian Indigenous community, and has been involved in the fight for Land Rights throughout his career.[1]

Galarrwuy Yunupingu

Born (1948-06-30) 30 June 1948 (age 71)
Known forPolitics, music
MovementAboriginal land rights in Australia
RelativesMandawuy Yunupingu
Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu
"Gurindji Blues"
Single by Galarrwuy Yunupingu
B-side"The Tribal Land"
Format7" Single
LengthIntroduction by Vincent Lingiari1:06
Gurindji Blues – 2:30
LabelRCA Victor 101937
Songwriter(s)Ted Egan
Producer(s)Ron Wills

Early life and educationEdit

He was born at Melville Bay near Yirrkala on 30 June 1948, and is a member of the Gumatj clan of the Yolngu people.[2] He attended the Mission School at Yirrkala in his formative years, and moved to Brisbane to study at the Methodist Bible College for two years, returning to Gove in 1967.[2]

Land rightsEdit

In the early 1960s, with his father, Gumatj clan leader Mungurrawuy, he entered the struggle for Land Rights, and helped draw up the Bark Petition at Yirrkala. He came to national attention in the late 1960s for his role in the landmark, but unsuccessful Gove Land Rights Case. This legal action was the first by Indigenous Australians to challenge mining companies' rights to exploit traditional lands. He became a prominent leader and strong voice on behalf of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory and Australia, gaining respect and admiration from many. In 1969 he was elected to the Yirrkala town council.

In 1975 he joined the Northern Land Council (NLC), the authority appointed under the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act of 1976 to represent traditional Aboriginal landowners and Aboriginal people. He was chairman of the NLC from 1977–80, an executive member until 1983 when he was re-elected as chairman. He has led a number of negotiations with mining and government bodies.[2]

As chair of the NLC, he led the Gagudju people in negotiations with mining and government bodies. Not opposed to mining in principle, Yunupingu sees it as a way for Aboriginal people to escape the welfare trap if it is conducted on the traditional owners' terms. These include a fair distribution of the economic benefits and respect for the land and specific sacred sites. He said: "We will continue to fight for the right to make our own decisions about our own land."[2]


In 1978 he was named Australian of the Year for his negotiations on the Ranger uranium mine agreement.[3] He said the award 'would help him to shake off the image of ratbag and radical' and would give him 'greater strength as an individual and as a leader'. It was also a recognition for Aboriginal people as 'the indigenous people of this country who must share in its future'.

In 1985, he was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for his services to the Aboriginal community. Galarrwuy Yunupingu is one of 100 "Australian Living National Treasures" selected by the National Trust of Australia as leaders in society "considered to have a great influence over our environment because of the standards and examples they set".

In 2015, at the Garma Festival, he was honoured by the University of Melbourne with an Honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D.). In a statement, Professor Margaret Sheil, Provost at the University of Melbourne, said the Honorary Doctor of Laws award to Yunupingu was to recognise and celebrate the significance of his work for Indigenous rights. She said, "The Honorary Doctor of Laws is the University's highest academic honour. ... Dr Yunupingu's relentless struggle for land rights and advocacy for the agency of his people have profoundly advanced the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people throughout Australia. ... Dr Yunupingu has received the award of the Doctor of Laws honoris causa in recognition of the fire he has lit that will blaze ever brighter until Indigenous people secure their self-evident rights to property, their own way of life, economic independence and control over their lives and the future of their children."[4]

Return to public lifeEdit

He has kept a low profile since the 1980s. In 2007 he spoke about the need for action in reducing indigenous poverty, in reference to John Howard's intervention he said "The intervention was an incomplete process about which he would reserve his judgement until he knew what was working and what wasn't." In 2009 he spoke out against the inability of the government to provide adequate housing.[5][6]

He lives near Yirrkala and is a senior ceremonial leader. He continues to hold numerous positions on committees and organisations where he can share his wide experience with other Australians and promote the aspirations of his people.[7]

In January 2010 he spent time in hospital after collapsing in a bank in Nhulunbuy.[8]

In late 2016, Dr Yunupingu had a kidney transplant, performed by Dr Paul Lawton in Darwin, NT.[9]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Lewis, Wendy (2010). Australians of the Year. Pier 9 Press. ISBN 978-1-74196-809-5.
  2. ^ a b c d "Inside the NLC – Council Members – Galarrwuy Yunupingu, AM". Northern Land Council. Archived from the original on 27 October 2009. Retrieved 25 January 2010.
  3. ^ "AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR Galarrwuy Yunupingu AM". Australia Day Council. Retrieved 25 January 2010.
  4. ^ Garma Festival 2015: Galarrwuy Yunupingu awarded honorary doctorate by University of Melbourne, ABC News Online, 1 August 2015
  5. ^ Waldon, Steve (27 October 2007). "Yunupingu returns to the fray, keen to get results, not symbols". The Age. Retrieved 25 January 2010.
  6. ^ Robinson, Natasha (12 August 2009). "Yunupingu loses faith in intervention". The Australian. Retrieved 25 January 2010.
  7. ^ Clayfield, Matthew (2 January 2009). "Galarrwuy Yunupingu's radical voice for action". The Australian. Retrieved 25 January 2010.
  8. ^ "Galarrwuy recovering". NT News. 25 January 2010. Retrieved 25 January 2010.
  9. ^ Not all doctors agree my patient deserved his kidney transplant. They're wrong, Dr Paul Lawton, ABC News Online, 2018-01-11