Monday, 17 June 2013
Statements on Indulgence
Yunupingu, Dr M
I rise today to speak about a great Australian, a great role model and a great advocate for his people. Mr Yunupingu dedicated his life to building bridges, breaking down barriers and serving the interests of his people.
Born in 1957 in Arnhem Land of the Yolngu people, Mr Yunupingu had a record of firsts. He was the first Indigenous person from Arnhem Land to receive a university degree—an arts degree. He went on to become the first Indigenous school principal in Australia in 1990. He was, though, as we all know, made famous for his music. In 1986 he co-founded the band Yothu Yindi. Through this medium, he managed to transform the musical landscape. Yothu Yindi took traditional Indigenous music and swept the mainstream. Using infectious tones and melodic rhythms, they had suburban families singing about land rights issues and Indigenous welfare. Spanning a 12-year career, Yothu Yindi released six major albums. These albums received high acclaim. winning eight ARIA awards, including the Song of the Year for Treaty. Last year, Mr Yunupingu was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in recognition of his musical achievements. In recognition of his service to connecting Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, Mr Yunupingu was named Australian of the year in 1992.
Mr Yunupingu died at the far too young age of 56 at his home in Yirrkala, Northern Territory. He leaves behind him a wife and six daughters. The sad and untimely passing of this Australian icon again raises the grave issues facing the Indigenous community when it comes to health and life expectancy. It is not acceptable in a country such as ours with our great wealth that Indigenous Australians have to live with their current standards of living and those of the Indigenous community who live in remote and rural Australia face considerably shorter life expectancy. It is quite wrong that we have in this country Third World health conditions. There is so much that we can do to make a difference in this space, and we must not stop until we achieve the results that we need to. For now, though, we pay our great respects to this great Australian—a leader amongst men and a true inspiration for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike.
The Yolngu people of north-east Arnhem Land have lost a great leader. A wife lost a husband and six daughters lost their father. Australia lost a towering figure of contemporary music, culture and politics, and a great advocate for justice for Indigenous Australians right across the country. We lost a great teacher, who shared his wisdom not only with the students at Yirrkala Community School but with all of us.
Through the music of Yothu Yindi, Yunupingu introduced many of us to the lives, the history, the language and the culture of the Yolngu people of north-east Arnhem Land. He taught us that their culture was strong and a source of great pride. He taught us about the beauty of his country, the sacred bond between the Yolngu and the land of their ancestors, and about the great struggle of his people to protect that country for future generations.
For many Australians, it was the first insight we had into that far-off world. Yunupingu's strength is that he was a great bridge-builder between our worlds. Gently, he opened our eyes and helped give rise to a new understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, teaching us that a new relationship was possible and that together we could build a better future for all Australians.
Like all great teachers, Yunupingu imparted his wisdom with patience, tolerance, kindness and warmth, whether through lessons in the classroom, where he became a pioneering educator; on the stage, where he took Yolngu music and culture to mainstream audiences around the world; or at the Garma Festival of Traditional Cultures, which he established with his wife to build bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
With his passing, we pay tribute to his legacy and, of course, recommit ourselves to achieving his vision: to take what he has taught us and put it to use for the benefit of Indigenous people around Australia, to continue our work to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, and to ensure that we build a reconciled Australia, based on mutual regard and respect. I believe that recognising Indigenous people in our Constitution will be a significant part of this reconciliation—and I know that he did too—helping us, together, to forge a stronger future, and one that he would be proud of.
Today, I also rise, on behalf of the people of Solomon, to acknowledge the very sad and untimely passing of former Australian of the Year and lead singer of Yothu Yindi, Mr Yunupingu. We just head the minister's very moving contribution and I would like to associate myself with her words. Mr Yunupingu, as we have heard, died at the age of 56, after a long public battle with kidney disease. It is with sadness that I speak of his passing, but it is also with great pride that I am here to talk about Mr Yunupingu's achievements—many of which were firsts for Indigenous Australians.
Mr Yunupingu was a great Territorian. He was admired by so many. I acknowledge the member for Lingiari here, because Mr Yunupingu was one of his constituents. As I said, he was admired by so many and known around the world. He was a leader for his people in that he brought Indigenous issues to the forefront of the national agenda. While I never had the pleasure of meeting him, his music is well known to me and to many Territorians. Music runs in Mr Yunupingu's family, with his nephew Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu also making beautiful music that Territorians can be proud of.
As others have done here, I would also like to acknowledge Mr Yunupingu's amazing achievements. In 1986 he founded Australia's most influential Indigenous band, Yothu Yindi, which was most noted for incorporating Aboriginal language and instrumentation with western rock. It is similar to what his nephew Gurrumul has done. The band, as we have heard, released six major albums from 1988 to 2000. It won eight ARIA awards and was nominated for 14 ARIAs. The most famous was in 1991 for the hit song Treaty, which was made song of the year in 1992.
In 1988 he was the first Indigenous Australian from Arnhem Land to gain a university degree, a Bachelor of Arts (Education) from Deakin University. In 1989 he became assistant principal of the Yirrkala Community School. In 1990 he took over as principal of that school, becoming the first Aboriginal principal in Australia. He held this until he left teaching in 1991 told pursue his career with Yothu Yindi—and aren't we pleased he did that! In 1992 he was named Australian of the Year for his role in building bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Yothu Yindi was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2012. In 2012 Mr Yunupingu used his ARIA induction speech to raise awareness of diabetes and kidney disease and he encouraged all viewers to support Aboriginal recognition in the Australian constitution.
In conclusion, the sad passing highlights the terrible truth that too many Aboriginal people die too young, a fact that the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, reminds Australians of so often. We still have a long way to go in improving health standards and life expectancy of our Indigenous Australians, and Mr Yunupingu did a tremendous job in bringing attention to the plight of his people. I would like to echo the words of the Northern Territory Chief Minister, Adam Giles. He said the territory and the nation have lost not only a great artist but also a significant cultural figure. The passing of Mr Yunupingu is a sad day for the territory, Aboriginal culture and Australian music. My condolences to Mr Yunupingu's wife, their six daughters, his people and his many fans. May he rest in peace and may his music live on for generations into the future.
Let me first state that Dr Yunupingu was a good mate of mine, someone I knew since the late 1970s and early 1980s, someone for whom I had the greatest respect and admiration for a whole lot of reasons. If you examine his life course as an adult you are left with no doubt as to the contribution he made to Yolngu life in north-east Arnhem Land, and to the recognition of Yolngu culture not only nationally but also globally through his music.
One of the key components of his life was his lifelong commitment to education, which began in the seventies. He gained a teaching certificate after starting his formal teaching career at Yirrkala Community School in 1978. He gained a Bachelor of Arts (Education) at Deakin University in 1987. He was the first Yolngu person, the first Aboriginal person in north-east Arnhem Land, to graduate from university. At the time this must have been some challenge because he was also very active musically. This degree led to his appointment as assistant principal at the Yirrkala school. Working with others in the field, he instituted a two-way learning curriculum at the school. That was something I became fully aware of during my time as a teacher in the Northern Territory and subsequently by the commitment that was shown by so many others in advocating for it and participating in it. It gave Yirrkala School a unique feeling to see two-way education being practised in the school, with Yolngu language, Yolngu culture as well as mainstream English and all the attendant curriculum issues that are required for our kids at school.
This two-way learning was ensuring optimal learning through Yolngu and balanda education modalities, balanda being non-Aboriginal persons. This approach reflected what Dr Yunupingu was achieving through his, by now, nationally and internationally renowned and recognised music. Dr Yunupingu's work and quality as an educator was further recognised in 1990 when he moved from assistant principal to school principal at Yirrkala School. His contribution to education was one of the areas of achievement that led to him being named Australian of the Year in 1992. Given the prominence he earned as a musician, this commitment to education had meaning for him and it was reflected in his attitude to his work and later in his music. His subsequent advocacy for renal disease is a testament to him.
This award of Australian of the Year continued a strong family tradition of social, political and cultural contribution to the Australian identity. Significantly, his father was a signatory of the bark petition, presented to the federal parliament in 1963. This year is the 50th anniversary of the presentation of the petition and that is a very important occasion. It was this petition that led to the historic Gove land rights case and ultimately to the implementation, through other issues, of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. His brother Galarrwuy had been previously recognised as Australian of the Year in 1978. It is a unique thing to have two brothers from the same Yolngu family in north-east Arnhem Land recognised as Australians of the Year and it is a magnificent tribute to them as individuals and also to their community and to their families. Dr Yunupingu's commitment to two-way cultural learning was at the basis of Yothu Yindi, established by him and other cultural leaders from the clans of the region.
Dr Yunupingu chaired the reference group of the National Review of Education for Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islanders. This important review, conducted in 1995 and 1996, benefited greatly from Dr Yunupingu's long-term and continuing commitment to education. This commitment was recognised in 1998 by the Queensland University of Technology when he was awarded an honorary doctorate of the university in recognition of his significant contribution to the education of Aboriginal children and to a greater understanding between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.
He was truly a man before his time in terms of advocacy of reconciliation through both education and music. Yothu Yindi was a vehicle for advancing reconciliation and for promoting the worth of Yolngu knowledge and culture. Yothu Yindi translates to 'child and mother'. It was founded in 1986 by Dr Yunupingu, along with others. It combined Western rock'n'roll with traditional song cycles and instrumentation from north-east Arnhem Land.
Their first album Homeland Movement was recorded in 1988. The significance of the homeland is not lost on us and should not be lost on us because that is what outstation living and homeland living is all about. There was a great commitment by Yolngu people in north-east Arnhem Land to not only look after their homeland but live on their homelands. That continues to this very day. It is one of the reasons this government is proposing to build a boarding facility for schools at one of those homelands, Garrthalala in north-east Arnhem Land.
The Homeland Movement album was recorded in one day and they secured a contract with Mushroom Records. They began touring in 1989 to Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, the Edinburgh Festival, Australia, New Zealand and the European Folk Festival in Glasgow. They released Tribal Voice in 1991 with hit singles Treaty and Djapana. Treaty spent 22 weeks in the national charts and was voted APRA Song of the Year in 1991. Treaty, as we know, was a plea for reconciliation with a potently political message.
They won the Human Rights Commission award for song writing. In 1992 they won the ARIA award for best Australian song and best Australian single. The film clip by Steve Johnson won best Australian video at both the Australian Music Awards and MTV International Awards in Los Angeles. In 1992 the band spent much time touring Australia, North America, and Europe, winning rave reviews wherever they played.
Dr Yunupingu won Australian of the Year for his commitment to forging greater understanding between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians, the Yolgnu and the Balanda. In the ARIA awards for 1993, Djapana won numerous awards. In that same year, Yothu Yindi joined with the National Drug Offensive to launch a campaign encouraging the sensible use of alcohol in both Yolgnu and Balanda societies.
The third album, Freedom, had three singles: World Turning, Timeless Land and Dots on the Shells. Extensive touring followed to Japan, Europe, USA, Brazil and Australia. Other albums followed including Wild Honey, One Blood and Garma. They had the great honour of performing at the Sydney Olympics and Paralympics in 2000.
Late in his life, however, Dr Yunupingu suffered from an all-too-prevalent kidney disease in Aboriginal communities across this country—that is, he contracted kidney disease and ultimately was required to be dialysed. Despite being very ill for a number of years, he was active is securing dialysis back to Nhulunbuy and returned there from Darwin so he could live at home and ultimately, sadly, die there.
He also secured, with my support and with funding from this government, an important kidney disease workshop—only a month or so prior to his death—where Yolngu leaders including himself were able to discuss how to assist their people to fight the dreadful scourge of renal failure. He was there during the course of the whole day that I was present at this conference. He showed a great interest in what could be done to address the issues to do with renal failure and its attendant diseases, the issues of prevention in particular and how to get people healthy so they do not get renal failure in the first place.
He was most concerned about so many of his countrymen and women suffering from kidney disease and being treated so far from their homes, often to die there. It is so sad that there are so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people around this country who contract this disease, which is so prevalent particularly in remote parts of this great nation of ours that they are required to go and seek treatment in places like Darwin or indeed Alice Springs, Katherine or Tennant Creek in the case of the Northern Territory or Perth in Western Australia or Adelaide in South Australia. It means they leave home, often never to return. That is simply so sad. This was not the case fortunately for Dr Yunupingu. He was able to go home and be dialysed in his home community and subsequently, sadly, die—as we know.
When he returned from Darwin he spent his time eating lots of bush tucker, especially fish roe, and playing with his many grandchildren. He was a very impressive man. He once said to my young daughter, who is a dancer, 'You will have to come and dance with us.' He was such an engaging individual and he had such a prolific commitment to reconciliation, to bringing the two parts of this nation so much closer together. He did this through actions as well as words. Whilst he was not an overtly political person in the sense of being involved in great political campaigns, his campaign for recognition through his music and through education will stand the test of time. Of that, I have absolutely no doubt. I would venture to say that he has done more in that realm, particularly for his people, the Yolngu, from north-east Arnhem Land, than almost any other person. He can rest peacefully knowing that he has had an enormous impact on the lives of so many and will be forever remembered.
My very sincere condolences go to Gurruwun, his wonderful wife, his six daughters, his huge extended family, to all of his mates, whether Yolngu or Balanda, wherever they might be, his partners in the music industry and his long-time friend and manager Alan James. When we pass, there may be a blink and there may be a tear, but this man will be forever remembered. May he rest in peace.
I too rise to pay my respects and tribute to Mr Yunupingu, who has passed away. It is a pleasure to follow my friend and colleague the member for Mr Yunupingu and his family live. He has not only represented the seat but understood the culture, the issues, the causes and the fights that he has just so eloquently spoken of. It, too, is a mighty reflection of the achievements, but it is nevertheless a sad occasion on which we meet to pay these respects.
My condolences and sympathies also to Mr Yunupingu's wife, his six daughters and his extended family. Mr Yunupingu was a Yolngu man, a member of the Gumatj clan of Arnhem Land. Baru, the saltwater crocodile, was his totem. Baru, in the dreaming, is associated with fire and is the creator of law, justice and order. Baru's journey across the east possessing fire and seeking justice was Mr Yunupingu's journey, a journey that he continues without us.
Yunupingu's legacy is huge. As huge as it is, it is characterised by passion and with reconciliation being at the heart of his achievements. In his music with Yothu Yindi we witnessed his use of the music as a driver of reconciliation. He also used the power of music to educate and to transform. The world was brought into existence through song, for the Yolngu, and with Mr Yunupingu's music the possibility for a new world, a new way of living with one another, was sung.
His passion for music became the instrument through which many Australians, and indeed many peoples the world over, encountered and understood the culture and challenges of Indigenous Australians and the critical need for real reconciliation in this country.
We saw in Mr Yunupingu a vibrancy and a courage in his music. His use of it was to bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians together. He was therefore also an exponent of the broader importance of the arts: the importance of them to Indigenous Australians, not just in terms of an aspiration or vocation, but the passion is here about pride, empowerment, the sharing of culture and respecting the value of Indigenous people and the knowledge of this country.
Through Treaty, Yothu Yindi brought Indigenous music and culture to the world, fostering understanding and challenging necessary conversations nationwide about reconciliation and of race. Mr Yunupingu spoke out against racism, but also of the importance of race. He also spoke of his Yolngu heritage and the many and extraordinary contributions Indigenous Australians have made and can make in this country. He once said that his mission in Yothu Yindi was:
… to demonstrate the pride we take in our culture and our willingness to share ''public'' aspects of it.
This pride, this determination and this spirit of generosity are remembered today.
Prime Minister Keating presented Yunupingu with the Australian of the Year award in 1993, the United Nations International Year of the World's Indigenous People. The fight for reconciliation, of course, was central to the early nineties. Prime Minister Keating delivered the now famous Redfern address in 1992—the year the High Court rejected the concept of terra nullius in the landmark Mabo case decision, which laid the foundation for the Native Title Act, subsequently passed by his government, a government which I was proud to serve in. Mr Yunupingu of course helped in this process. He was a critical part of the momentum that recognised not just the contribution of Indigenous Australians but also the need to make amends for past abuses and to look into the future toward meaningful progress and reconciliation.
Mr Yunupingu may be known internationally as a musician, but he was also an educator. He was one of the first Yolngu people to receive a degree, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts (Education) from Deakin University. He became the first Indigenous man to be appointed a principal. He was promoted to that position in 1990 at the Yirrkala School. As principal, Mr Yunupingu achieved great success in developing new approaches to education. Even after he left his job as a principal to pursue full-time his career in music, he never stopped being an educator. His classroom expanded. His lessons were in song, but Mr Yunupingu still taught in a different and creative way.
People learned of the knowledge of his people. The name of his band, Yothu Yindi, translates, as the member for Lingiari mentioned, as 'child and mother', a meaning that the demonstrates balance. 'Yothu Yindi' expresses a belief system centred on reconciliation—of shared knowledge, of closeness and of support. This belief system was expressed through music, dance and art. Mr Yunupingu founded the Garma Festival, a festival of traditional culture. It is a celebration of Indigenous music and art, and a festival that has grown in size and influence over the years. More than a music festival, Garma is a forum for thinking and speaking about issues related to Aboriginal culture, and for addressing the inequities that exist in this country and the challenges faced by Indigenous Australians. Yunupingu urged us to fight harder for his people, saying:
Those in the corridors of power—be they parliaments, corporations or schools—need to recognise Aboriginal culture and accept it as an intrinsic element of our national identity.
And, of course, we must.
I had the opportunity to meet and work with Mr Yunupingu in several capacities over my time in this parliament. I met him in 1995 in Darwin, when the federal government's Working Nation commitment allowed us to leverage agreement from the Northern Territory for education and training. I had gone to the Northern Territory to seek the views of a number of Indigenous leaders. Mr Yunupingu was one of those leaders. He travelled from Yirrkala to meet me. He supported our cause, and that of educators and communities, to work together on curriculum. We needed to develop curriculum that would directly help Aboriginal children, and improve their literacy and numeracy, and their capacity for future employment. Later, as education minister, Mr Yunupingu critically helped me to understand the importance of Indigenous languages—not just to their education but fundamentally to their culture—and to recognise that the Aboriginal cultures of this country are a necessary part of the curriculum for young Indigenous students, that English language learning was never going to adequately foster a sense of culture, of pride or of innovation in education that was and still is required in Aboriginal communities and, finally, that without the language you cannot properly express culture. These were all important lessons to me that subsequently came to bear on the development of the cultural policy, Creative Australia. But back then in that time with my friend and colleague, the member for Lingiari, I had the privilege to open schools in East Arnhem Land—a significant step not just to reconciliation but to developing that fuller education and cultural experience.
As Minister for Regional Australia, I witnessed the diversity of Indigenous nations across this land and saw the contributions and challenges of Aboriginal Australians. Our multiculturalism, which must include Indigenous cultures, is what makes this country so great. This is something Mr Yunupingu knew intrinsically. He urged us to pursue the course of reconciliation on the streets and on the playing fields, and to listen and learn from the world's oldest culture. Mr Yunupingu lived in two worlds, proudly living the balance of Yothu Yindi and giving us all the very powerful example of what reconciliation needed to be. As I have mentioned, as arts minister, I was proud to work on those concepts and announce our first cultural policy in 20 years. Creative Australia is truly an Australian cultural policy with the unique, diverse and sacred Indigenous cultures at the heart of it. It recognises the significance of Indigenous culture, the need to embrace it, to understand it, to interpret it and to learn from it. Aboriginal languages and cultures must be recognised and fostered in modern society as inspiring and essential aspects of Australian culture, and this is embedded and funded within the policy. I spoke earlier of passions, and, again, it is passion that drives and gives opportunities to young people—to Indigenous young people—and that is what we are seeking to evolve, adapt, encourage and nurture in Creative Australia.
Mr Yunupingu was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame last year. It does remind us how rich we are when we appreciate the great contributions of Indigenous culture and Indigenous Australians. 'Yunupingu' means solid rock, and solid rock he was—a foundation for true reconciliation in this country. Solid rock is also synonymous with reconciliation, through the song written by his friend Shane Howard, memorably performed by Shane's band, Goanna in 1982. Shane was inspired to write the song following a trip to Uluru where he was invited to join a group of Indigenous people from Amaba performing imma, a community ceremony. Shane paid his tribute a fortnight ago, reflecting on his own recent performance at a Sorry Day ceremony and powerfully stated:
There is still a gap between the dream and the reality. There is still no treaty.
So, reconciliation was crucial to Yunupingu, and his contribution to advancing it was huge. He saw the importance of the building of bridges between the cultures that share this land and it is up to us to continue his hugely significant work. In Mr Yunupingu's death, we are reminded that the building of bridges still remains an urgent task. Mr Yunupingu, like so many First Nation people, died of chronic disease. The incidence of chronic disease in Indigenous communities is over double that in non-Indigenous communities.
In Closing the Gap, we are committed to addressing the inequality of health care and living standards for Indigenous Australians. Yunupingu's passing further compels us to do better by the original custodians of this land. As sad as his passing is, it does remind us of the unfinished business. As a legacy to him, our resolve must be strengthened to close the gap and finish the building. Again, my sincere condolences to Mr Yunupingu's family. It is a great loss to the nation, but we are left with a great legacy upon which we must build.
It can be said of very few that on their passing they have unequivocally left Australia in a significantly deeper and better place, but there is no doubt that on the passing of Mr Yunupingu it can be justifiably said that he left Australia as a deeper and better place. I want to begin very briefly in Yirrkala—Yolngu territory, just south of Nhulunbuy in East Arnhem. My own experience there was through the rubric of the Indigenous protected areas, for which I had responsibility in 2005 and 2006. One of the most uplifting experiences I have had in my parliamentary time was to visit Yirrkala. Of all the Indigenous communities in Australia that I have had the honour of entering, Yirrkala had the strongest sense of identity, education and art, and it is in no small part due to the influence of Mr Yunupingu and his family. It is an extraordinary family in Indigenous Australia. I believe it is the only Australian family to have produced not one but two Australians of the Year. Of any background and any place in Australia, I think that is a unique achievement.
The point about Yirrkala is very simple: it had role models, it had leaders, and it had people who achieved and succeeded and laid out a pathway for young people to follow. That was about creating a reinforcing culture, rooted in, based on and founded on Yolngu culture but with the higher purpose of the fulfilment of each and every individual in Indigenous Australia. Of course, there were failings and challenges, as there are in any human community, but this was a beacon of what could be. It is against that background that we acknowledge the passing of Mr Yunupingu.
There are three things to recognise here: his education, his art and his health, but all in the context of supporting the grand opportunity of Indigenous Australians to be their full and best selves. Although he is best known for his music, Mr Yunupingu, to my mind, should be best remembered for his work in education. He was the first Indigenous Australian from Arnhem Land to gain a university degree, at Deakin University in Victoria. He was a teacher and then, of all of his achievements, to my mind his highest achievement was becoming Australia's first Indigenous principal in 1990 at Yirrkala Community School in the Northern Territory. He became Australia's first Indigenous principal, and that is a message to people from Indigenous Australia of all ages: you can be anything. The message about the majesty of education and the potential for advancement and participation is peerless.
Beyond education, which of course remained a lifelong passion, there was the area for which he was best known: art, music and dance. Of course, the vehicle for that was Yothu Yindi. This is not well known, but the name is the translation of child and mother, reflecting this notion of balance, harmony and connection between the ages in Indigenous Australia. So, Yothu Yindi, the band, was created in 1986 by Mr Yunupingu, and it was successful in ways beyond everybody's imagination. Ultimately, off the back of the great song Treaty, which won song of the year, there were ARIA music awards, six major albums and induction into the ARIA hall of fame, and Yunupingu became Australian of the Year in the early 1990s. And his music was more than just a celebration of music. It combined art and dance, and it made Indigenous Australia something that Australians were deeply and positively proud of, right through the ages. It shattered old barriers, and I think that was an extraordinary step forward.
In his later days, driven by his own challenges with health—with kidney disease—he became a champion for health in Arnhem Land, in East Arnhem in particular, in his own community of Yirrkala, and did his best to ensure that the services available in the cities were available in the outlying regions. That is a legacy of great human achievement. We have an Australian of the Year, we have somebody who was a community leader, a health leader, and a great artist. But, above all else, he and his family should be remembered as great educators, because that is the indispensable element in giving children of Indigenous origin the pathway to being full and brilliant participants in modern Australia.
I want to speak briefly tonight about the loss of a wonderful Australian, Mr Yunupingu. In 1992 I had the honour of meeting Mr Yunupingu when he had just been named Australian of the Year. I was working for the Attorney-General's Department on the public consultation process for the racial vilification legislation, a bill that was highly controversial and deeply confronting to many Australians at the time. I was travelling around with a group of colleagues from Attorney-General's to consult right throughout Australia with a variety of groups and the general public to get their views on the legislation.
This public consultation was very tough. I was a relatively young and fresh public servant and during some of the consultations I was faced with some of the most confronting, difficult, and often aggressive conversations about racism that I have ever experienced. There were people who did not agree with the racial vilification legislation. In fact, there were people who were actively agitating against it, and I found this very confronting and deeply depressing. I remember when we were in Adelaide—and this was probably the most confronting of all the sessions we had—we had a group of neo-Nazis turn up to the consultation, and they basically blockaded the community hall that we were in. There were a number of other community groups and organisations and Indigenous communities who were keen to ensure that this bill got through, and the neo-Nazis were doing their level best to disrupt the proceedings. I did not even know we had neo-Nazis in Australia, with shaved skinheads and swastikas and the whole thing. It was deeply confronting.
While conducting these consultations I travelled to different parts of Australia, including Alice Springs. It was there that I met Mr Yunupingu, who was a friend of one of my colleagues. My colleague had spent quite a bit of time up north and had done a lot of work in the legal services with the Indigenous community there. It was Mr Yunupingu who reinforced to me the importance of these racial vilification laws that I was working on and the importance of the community consultation process, despite the fact that it was deeply confronting. He reminded me of the challenges faced by Indigenous Australians, and he reminded me of the challenges faced by those Indigenous Australians who were vilified—how it shattered their self-esteem, their confidence, their will to succeed—
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 17:39 to 17:52
As I was saying, Mr Yunupingu reminded me of the challenges faced by those Indigenous Australians who were vilified—how it shattered their self-esteem, their confidence, their will to succeed. And he reminded me of the need to continue to fight against racism and hateful language and abuse. My brief conversation with him gave me the inspiration I needed to continue with the job of going out there and finishing off this consultation and making sure that this legislation was going to be introduced, and it remains one of the proudest achievements of my career. As I said before, it was in that year that Mr Yunupingu was named Australian of the Year, so there was just a lovely synergy to the whole thing. I have always been thankful to him for the inspiration he gave to me at that really critical point, and also for the inspiration he gave to the whole nation. He was a great Australian who spoke to us and exposed us to the conditions and challenges of Indigenous Australians through the very accessible and popular medium of music. What he spoke was incredibly powerful, and it was done through a medium that was easy to reach for all Australians. It spoke in a very strong way about the conditions, the situation, the challenges of Indigenous Australians. Mr Yunupingu was a great Australian and will be very much missed. Lest we forget.