PEOPLE from Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory are heading to a sorry ground to mourn the death of Aboriginal elder and singer Mr Yunupingu.
Mr Yunupingu, well known for fronting the band Yothu Yindi, his charitable work and for being Australian of the Year in 1992, died aged 56 at his home in the small town of Yirrkala on Sunday.
A family member confirmed the news, while others in the community and at nearby Nhulunbuy said hundreds were on their way to a sorry ground to mourn his loss.
“News this morning has had a dramatic impact on everybody here and people are a bit stunned,” said one man in Nhulunbuy who knew Mr Yunupingu.
“He was a member of the dominant clan … everybody is going to the sorry ground.”
Mr Yunupingu’s family asked media to refrain from using his full name or publishing his image.
In 2009 Mr Yunupingu spoke publicly about his battle with alcohol.
He had kidney problems and relied on dialysis.
“When you hear about your failure, the first instance is a bit frightening,” Mr Yunupingu told the ABC at the time.
Vice Chancellor of the University of Western Sydney, Janice Reid, who knew Mr Yunupingu and once lived in Yirrkala, said people from all over Australia and overseas would be attending his funeral, a ceremony that would likely continue for many days.
“He had a quiet but authoritative presence but also lived with a sense of fun and liveliness,” Professor Reid said.
“He really was a renaissance man and was a man of many diverse and complementary skills and talents.”
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Australia had lost a great voice in efforts towards reconciliation.
“We have lost a uniquely talented musician, a passionate advocate for Aboriginal people and a truly great friend.
“He leaves a great body of work to inspire us and we will need all of that inspiration.”
Cabinet Minister Peter Garrett, who was the lead singer of Midnight Oil who toured with Yothu Yindi, said the significance of Mr Yunupingu’s musical vision could not be underestimated.
“Yirrkala and Nhulunbuy and Yolngu country is a long way away from the rest of Australia and even further away from the cities of Europe and America,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“Yet with Yothu Yindi he was able to lead a band that performed and played its song and expressed very strongly its culture in all parts of the world.”
Arts Minister Tony Burke said the nation had lost a great artist and it was a sad day for Australian music.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said news of Mr Yunupingu’s death was particularly sad because of his age.
“This is one of the real problems in modern Australia – too many Aboriginal people die too young,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Canberra.
Northern Land Council Chairman, Wali Wunungmurra, first met Mr Yunupingu in the 1960s.
“He was a close friend of mine. He was a teacher, a school principal and educator. He achieved a lot in his time,” Mr Wunungmurra said.
“His music took him all over the world … He had done so much for his community and he did so much for us all, white and black.”
As well as being a community leader, Mr Yunupingu was the first Aboriginal person from Arnhem Land to obtain a university degree and worked closely with the Garma Institute, which helps train and educate remote indigenous youth. – AAP