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Mandawuy Yunupingu

An Aboriginal Australian musician and educator, most notable for being the front man of the band Yothu Yindi. He was joint Australian of the Year for 1992.

He was born in Yirrkala in Arnhem Land, an Aboriginal Reserve in the northeastern part of the Northern Territory of Australia. He was a member of the Yolngu people. His father's name was Mangurrawut Yunupingu. His skin name was Gudjuk, which means hawk. His name was changed to Mandawuy when a family member with the same name died, in line with Yolngu custom. Yunupingu means "rock that stands against time".

He was the younger brother of Galarrwuy Yunupingu, a senior elder of Arnhem Land, who was Australian of the Year in 1978 and remains a force in Australian politics. One of his sisters is the artist Gulumbu Yunupingu.

Early career

Yunupingu was the first Aboriginal person from Arnhem Land to gain a university degree, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in education from Deakin University in 1988. 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 position until late 1991, leaving to pursue his career with Yothu Yindi.

In the 1980s, he introduced a new system called "Both Ways," which recognised traditional cultural teaching.

Yothu Yindi

He co-founded the Aboriginal band Yothu Yindi in 1986. He was the lead singer and most prominent personality of the band, and he also played guitar. The name Yothu Yindi means "child and mother". It refers to the kinship of north-east Arnhem Land.

The band is most famous for the song "Treaty", which reached Number 1 on the Australian charts and stayed there for a total of 22 weeks. The song contains words from Gujamati, an indigenous language.

Yunupingu strove to achieve a better understanding of Aboriginal culture by balanda (non-Aboriginal people), and was a prominent advocate of reconciliation between white and Aboriginal Australians.


On 26 January 1993, Yunupingu was named Australian of the Year for 1992 by the National Australia Day Council. In April 1998 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Queensland University of Technology, "in recognition of his significant contribution to the education of Aboriginal children, and to greater understanding between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians."

Yunupingu entered the ARIA Hall Of Fame in December 2012 when Yothu Yindi were inducted.


Yunupingu suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure, which in turn contributed to advanced renal failure, and he received haemodialysis three times a week in Darwin. Yunupingu was diagnosed in 2007 following his attendance at a rehabilitation clinic after years of heavy drinking, between one and four cartons of beer daily according to his treating psychiatrist.

He also participated in traditional healing practices. His sister Gulumbu is one of a group of senior Yolngu women who have set up a healing place with the support of the Yothu Yindi Foundation. Yunupingu was one of its first patients.


Mandawuy Yunupingu died at his home in the Northern Territory on 2 June 2013. After his death, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said: "We have today lost a great Australian voice in the efforts towards reconciliation."

Personal life

He was married to fellow teacher Yalmay. He was a father of four daughters and has five grandsons.

His nephew Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu played in Yothu Yindi, and has also embarked on a solo career.
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