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Mandawuy Yunupingu AC

1956 – 2013

Dr Mandawuy Yunupingu (1956–2013), singer songwriter, was the lead singer of Australia's pre-eminent Aboriginal band, Yothu Yindi. Born in Arnhem Land, Yunupingu trained as a teacher, completing his degree in 1987 and later becoming the first Indigenous Australian to be appointed a school principal. He formed Yothu Yindi in 1986. Combining traditional instruments, songs and sounds with western rock and pop, the band achieved international recognition with their second album Tribal Voice (1991) and specifically with the hit single 'Treaty'.

Co-written with Paul Kelly, 'Treaty' was written as a protest and to raise awareness of the government’s failure to honour then Prime Minister Bob Hawke’s promise to Indigenous Australians, at the Barunga Festival in 1988, of a treaty. It was performed at the launch of the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Peoples; 'Treaty' reached No. 11 on the Australian charts and was voted Song of the Year by the Australian Performing Rights Association.

Yunupingu retired from teaching in 1991 and toured with the band throughout the 1990s while continuing his work in supporting and promoting Aboriginal rights and culture. He was a member of the Yothu Yindi Foundation and the Reference Group Overseeing the National Review of Education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

Named Australian of the Year in 1992, Yunupingu died of kidney disease in June 2013, six months after Yothu Yindi were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame. In 2014, he was posthumously awarded a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) for services to music, indigenous social justice, education and cross-cultural understanding.

Updated 2018