At the southern end of the crescent moon, I want to say your name. I love its sound, but for now I know I mustn’t. It’s not right, Yolngu way.
Another popular and beautiful Yolngu spirit has passed, a man who touched the lives of millions around this weary planet of ours. Off Arnhem Land, within a home of sand and salt, lays steamy Elcho Island. Of clan Gumatj, his Dreaming is Baru (crocodile). Dr G. Yunupingu was born without sight, but gained a huge heart and breathtaking talent. His voice tamed time still; whispering an ancient magic, an enchantment that leapt cultural borders to enrich those willing to dream. This special man, born to the Rainbow Spirit.
Yes, we will be told – time and time again- that he sung for royalty, shared verse with the most powerful and famous from around this planet. But his gift to us all was the sincere love he shared from within his mother tongue. Weaving a tale in Yolngu matha (“Yoongoo matta”) he shared valiantly the life of his people, along with the lament, and positive peace, that accompanied him through his journey in life. Learning the ropes within Yothu Yindi where he played keyboards, his vocal talents were soon made obvious to many within the industry. Destined to be shared to a world that had heard nothing like this before, and fed among those madly eager to know more, the lonely light of fame soon descended upon this man of the Crocodile Dreaming.
I ran a program in Darwin which included teaching and supporting Dr G. Yunupingu’s siblings: the Yunupingu, Marika and Wunungmurra teens. During a week-long stay in the tropical savannas around Katherine, I was delighted to see 20 or so teens from across the Top End; the Kimberley, Tanami and Central Desert, all huddled together on the loungeroom floor while singing in unison to G. Yunupingu’s first CD, crooning from a ghetto blaster. Leading the way in mother tongue were his proud nephews, I knew I was witnessing something so very special. He sung for all the clans, while for those in the urban south, a seed had been planted. You see, folk in the Top End, and those down in the deserts, had already enjoyed Aboriginal songs sung in tribal tongue. But to many south-from-Capricorn, G. Yunupingu’s enchantment stole their hearts and minds to intrigue. It was a Yolngu voice, an ancient Australian voice, one that had us wondering, respecting, and yearning forever more. In many ways, it was ‘his voice’ that had become the cultural voice that represented this nation overseas. This really was his gift to us all.
In mourning are those from Blue King Brown. Good friends to G. Yunupingu, they had recorded alongside him. At the Darwin Festival, under towering coconut palms in the Botanic Gardens, G. Yunupingu took to the stage to an audience of mostly Indigenous folk from a multitude of remote NT communities. So powerful was his magnetic pull that festival staff had to provide extra space for the arriving hordes, while also erecting a big screen to allow all to gaze upon the man whose word meant so much. I was touched by this, it was a very powerful. When Blue King Brown took to the stage, they invited their wonderful friend back to the mic to join them. The large, animated crowd, were completely smitten by the majesty of the moment, while the love and care Nattali Rize shone this gentle Yolngu man’s way, was admirable.
For the past two weekends, I have been spinning his songs. Did I feel the nearing of this wise man’s passing? Perhaps, but we will all miss his gentle persona; his shy, humble way, and the beautiful songs that will never come to be.
You spent some of your last days living lonely along the leafy beaches of Darwin, a serenity of place I know so well. A kind, culturally rich man from a steamy island off Arnhem Land, Dr G. Yunupingu you did tame time still, forever more. A gift from the stars, you will return to those who have missed you as much as we do now. When we trance to the splendour of ‘rainbow’, view the ancient toothy wisdom of Baru, we will send our love through time to nurture your Dreaming. You are a special man, at one with the sand and salt of Elcho, at peace among your ancestors. We love you Mr Yunupingu. Goodbye for now.