Yami Lester OAM (1941–2017) was born at Walyatjata in the north of South Australia. A Yankunytjatjara man, as a youth he worked as a stockman, until at the age of sixteen he went blind after contracting the eye disease trachoma, almost certainly as a result of fallout from 1957's British nuclear bomb test at Maralinga. After moving to Adelaide Yami joined the Aboriginal Advancement League. He later worked as a court interpreter in Alice Springs and served with the Institute of Aboriginal Development and the Pitjantjatjara Land Council. Along with the efforts of others, his campaign on behalf of Maralinga's indigenous victims was instrumental in bringing about 1984's McClelland Royal Commission, which recommended group compensation for Maralinga's Tjarutja people and a clean-up of Uranium-contaminated Tjarutja lands. Yami Lester's life is recounted in the autobiography Yami – shortlisted for the 1993 NSW Premier's Prize – and also inspired Paul Kelly's 1987 song ‘Maralinga (Rainy Land)’.
Permission is given for the use of Yami’s name, voice and image by his immediate family.
Gift of the artist 2005
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number: 2005.49
More about the artist and subject
Permanent collection catalogue
On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.