Mandawuy Yunupingu


Mandawuy Yunupingu was born on 17 September 1956 near the remote north-east Arnhem Land community of Yirrkala, 600 kilometres east of Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory. Mandawuy/s surname, Yunupingu, means “rock that will stand against anything”.

Originally known as Bakamana, he took the name Mandawuy (meaning “clay”) in 1989 following the death of a man who shared his former name. (Under Yolngu law, the name of a dead person cannot be uttered until that person’s spirit has passed on to its rightful place).

Mandawuy’s skin name is Gudjuk meaning hawk. His formal Yolngu name and spiritual identity is Maralitja. He is a member of the Gumatj clan of the Yirritja moiety and his ancestral totem is the baru meaning saltwater crocodile. Mandawuy speaks many of the tribal dialects encompassed in Yolngu matha as well as English.

In 1977 Mandawuy earned a restricted teaching certificate and began teaching at the Yirrkala Community School. In 1985, while teaching at Galiwin’ku on neighbouring Elcho Island, Mandawuy wrote his first song, Djapana (Sunset Dreaming). Later in the year he formed the band Yothu Yindi with his nephew Witiyana Marika.

In 1987, Mandawuy became the first Aboriginal person from Arnhem Land to gain a university degree, receiving a Bachelor of Arts (Education) from Deakin University. In 1989 he became assistant principal of the Yirrkala Community School and set about introducing a both-ways curriculum that offered students the best aspects of both a Yolngu (Aboriginal) and Balanda (European) education.

In 1990, Mandawuy took over as principal of the Yirrkala Community School, a position he held until late 1991 when he took leave to concentrate on his career with Yothu Yindi.
As the band’s principal songwriter he was responsible for much of the material on Yothu Yindi’s gold album Homeland Movement (1989) the multi-platinum album Tribal Voice (1991), Freedom (1993), Birrkuta – Wild Honey (1996), One Blood (1999) and Garma (2000).

Mandawuy toured extensively with Yothu Yindi, performing throughout Australia, north and south
America and eastern and western Europe as well as parts of Africa, Asia and the Pacific. In December 1992, the band was invited to headline at the New York launch of the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Peoples. Another career highlight beamed around the world was Yothu Yindi’s performance during the closing ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
On January 26, 1993, Mandawuy Yunupingu was named Australian of the Year for 1992.
Mandawuy comes from a politically active family. His father was a signatory to the bark petition presented to the federal parliament in 1963, which was the petition that led to the historic Gove Land Rights case and ultimately to the implementation of the Land Rights Act (NT) 1976. Mandawuy’s older brother, Galarrwuy Yunupingu AM, served five terms as chairman of the influential Northern Land Council.

Mandawuy Yunupingu is the deputy chairman / secretary of the Yothu Yindi Foundation, an Aboriginal Foundation set up in 1990 by Mandawuy and elders from five clans of the region. One of the key objectives of the Foundation is to support and further the maintenance, development, teaching and enterprise potential of Yolngu cultural life. The Yothu Yindi Foundation presents the annual Garma Festival of Traditional Culture held annually at Gulkula, north east Arnhem Land, NT, Australia. The Foundation also launched the Yirrnga Music Development Centre, a state of the art recording studio at Gunyangara at the 1999 Garma Festival.
In April 1998 Mandawuy was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of the University (DUniv) by the Queensland University of Technology “in recognition of his significant contribution to the education of Aboriginal children, and the greater understanding between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.”

Mandawuy is currently working on the establishment of a National Indigenous recording program and, with other members of Yothu Yindi, and is committed to a schools touring program in which he is sharing his culture and inspiration.
In February 2005 Mandawuy and family members undertook the delivery of the Alcan Cultural Induction program with the specific goal of minimising the social impact on the Yolngu community in the Nhulunbuy region from the massive influx of non-indigenous residents working on the upgrade of the Aluminium refinery.
He is married to Yalmay, a teacher from the Rirratjingu clan, and they have six daughters.