Leading Aboriginal singer given state funeral

Last updated 18:56 30/06/2013
Yalmay Yunupingu

'HE SHOWED US A WAY': Yalmay Yunupingu at the state memorial service for her husband, the former Yothu Yindi singer Yunupingu, at Gulkula in Arnhem Land.

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The orange headband worn by one of Australia's leading indigenous figures, singer Yunupingu, has had a final outing.

At a state funeral deep in the heart of Arnhem Land, his wife Yalmay wore the headband as hundreds of mourners gathered at the stringybark forest with views to the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles and singer Paul Kelly are among the mourners who have gathered in the stringybark forest of Gulkula.

The funeral was opened with a traditional dance. Members of Yunupingu's local tribe, painted in yellow and holding spears, danced a farewell to the former leader singer of Yothu Yindi to the beat of clapping sticks.

An Aboriginal elder, educator and 1992 Australian of the Year, Yunupingu died aged 56 at his home in the small town of Yirrkala on June 2.

The barefoot dancers moved through a tin shed where hundreds of mourners have gathered to farewell the the singer, who was the first indigenous person from Arnhem Land to gain a university degree and the NT's first Aboriginal school principal.

The dancers stopped before a stage where both the Australian and indigenous flag hung side by side.

Outgoing education minister, Peter Garrett, was the MC for the state memorial service.

Dhanggal Gurruwiwi, from the Yothu Yindi foundation, said Yunupingu had a vision to give back to his community.

She said he was also interested in exploring the relationship between his culture and western knowledge, which resulted in the Garma festival, held each year in Arnhem Land.

Northern Land Council (NLC) chairman Wali Wunungmurra said they had faced hardships and many battles together, such as the education of Aboriginal children, "but we kept going on".

He called for this to continue after Yunupingu's death.

"Legacy only goes so far but there is a responsibility for us to take that legacy forward, run with it, rather than just remember what happened."

Singer Paul Kelly said he first met Yunupingu in Chicago when the indigenous singer opened for Midnight Oil, noticing his "big hair and big smile".

He went on to spend time with Yunupingu in Arnhem Land, working on arrangements for Yothu Yindi's second album, Tribal Voice, released in 1991.

"Their music experienced the duality of their culture and the duality of Australian culture in general," Kelly said.

"He showed us a way ... and we are all richer for it."

Yunupingu's wife, Yalmay, dressed in black but with an orange floral headband, said her husband was a teacher and musician.

"His headband that I am wearing today is the one he took to the world promoting Yolngu music, language, culture, in his attempt to bring down white Australians' racism," she said.

Yunupingu said it had been an amazing journey with her husband, who she married in 1979, never thinking his name would become famous the world over.

During the three-hour service, the award-winning blind artist Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu sang in the Yolngu language with men from the local choir.

Yunupingu's six daughters also performed a tribute dance to their father's music.

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-Fairfax Australia

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