NACCHO Aboriginal Health : Tributes to Dr G Yunupingu and Mr Yami Lester – Men without sight but not without a vision

 

Not far from that creek crossing, at Maralinga, when Yami Lester was a 12-year-old, the British government, in collusion with our Australian government, exploded a series of atomic weapons.

A black mist rolled over their lands, hurting the eyes of this young boy. After a relatively short period of time he became blind.

At his funeral service, we were moved by the singing of Paul Kelly, whose song Maralinga told the story of Mr Lester.

Paul Kelly also worked with the second blind man I wish to commemorate today, Dr G Yunupingu, who brought his beautiful, ethereal voice, in his Yolngu language, to people across the world.

Both men died, in part, due to kidney disease.

Dr Yunupingu had suffered from liver and kidney diseases for many years. He was just 46 years of age. Mr Lester died from end-stage renal failure.”

Extracts from Senator DODSON (Western Australia) Senate Tribute in full Part 2

Picture above from  : Yami Lester: More than 500 people travel to South Australia’s far north for leader’s funeral  : Image and full name used with Permission from family

 ” Dr G Yunupingu ‘s uncle, senior Gumatj elder Djunga Djunga Yunupingu, is reported to have told the crowd at the National Indigenous Awards last week that Dr G Yunupingu ‘built a bridge between Indigenous and non- Indigenous Australia with his music.

Both Yolngu and Balanda walking together hand in hand—two laws, two people, one country.’

These words speak to the moving and reconciling impact of the life Dr G Yunupingu lived, which, sadly, was all too short.

The coalition government and this parliament recognise kidney disease as an important health condition impacting too greatly on our first Australians. Recognising this, we have invested in significant renal services, including dialysis, and we will continue to push for improved services for Territorians.

Dr G Yunupingu’s achievements over his life have left a legacy in the music industry. He will remain one of Australia’s most treasured music artists, described by the Prime Minister as a remarkable Australian who shared Yolngu language with the world through music.

Extracts from Senator Scullion (Northern Territory ) Senate tribute Part 1 Below

 ” We owe him (Mr Lester)  a great debt because he faced adversity with understated courage, with humility, with humour, with great strength.

In a world without nuclear threats and risks Mr Lester would have been a great stockman. In a world with nuclear threats and risks he would crack his whip loud, hard, sharp and constant to sound a different alarm.

Mr Lester made it part of his life’s work to fight for people affected by nuclear testing and to campaign for Indigenous land rights, and we’ve just heard today what a success he made of that and what a difference he made.

Vale, Mr Lester, and our condolences go out to his family and friends.

I was at Garma just a couple of weeks ago, where his legacy was celebrated and his passing very strongly felt.

You could feel it everywhere over the weekend at the time of Garma.

I just want to add, very briefly, to the comments that Senator Dodson just made around kidney disease and the need to address kidney disease in this country, given the impact it has had on these two great Aboriginal Australians.”

Extracts Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia ) senate Tribute in full Part 3 Below

Part 1 Full Text  Senator SCULLION: I move:

That the Senate records its sincere condolences at the deaths, on 21 July 2017 of Mr Kunmanara Lester OAM, and on 25 July 2017 of Dr G Yunupingu, places on record its gratitude and admiration for their service to the nation, and tenders its profound sympathy to their family and community in their bereavement.

I rise on behalf of the coalition government to pay respects and provide sincere condolences to the families, friends and communities of two remarkable men, two First Australians, who have each made such a difference to the nation through their own respective life paths.

Today the Senate pays respects to the outstanding and remarkable contributions of Dr G Yunupingu and Mr Yami Lester. Perhaps what is most striking is that both of these men lived a life without sight, but certainly not without insight and vision, for these two men saw and strived for a better future for their people using both words and action.

I was incredibly saddened by the news of Dr G Yunupingu’s passing, having had the delight of spending time with him in very different circumstances to most people, on his country.

In my previous life as a commercial fisherman, I and my young family at the time spent many years around Dr G Yunupingu’s country, around his home, particularly on the northern end of Elcho Island.

I consider myself blessed to have been able to know this man on his country, when many would see he was most himself.

In fact, I learned that, despite being born blind, Mr G Yunupingu was a great optimist and a man who made the best of everything.

He was a hero of his people and his community and a champion of the Indigenous music industry.

In fact, he was a champion of the Australian music industry, taking Indigenous music and Australian culture to the world.

Learning to play the guitar from an early age, Dr G Yunupingu joined the acclaimed Yothu Yindi band as a teenager.

This band changed the Australian music industry for the better and, more importantly, changed the psyche of our nation through its thought-provoking songs and powerful lyrics.

This music compelled you to listen.

It was music that made all who heard it stop and listen, to listen and learn.

Dr G Yunupingu ‘s uncle, senior Gumatj elder Djunga Djunga Yunupingu, is reported to have told the crowd at the National Indigenous Awards last week that Dr G Yunupingu ‘built a bridge between Indigenous and non- Indigenous Australia with his music.

Both Yolngu and Balanda walking together hand in hand—two laws, two people, one country.’

These words speak to the moving and reconciling impact of the life Dr G Yunupingu lived, which, sadly, was all too short.

The coalition government and this parliament recognise kidney disease as an important health condition impacting too greatly on our first Australians. Recognising this, we have invested in significant renal services, including dialysis, and we will continue to push for improved services for Territorians.

Dr G Yunupingu’s achievements over his life have left a legacy in the music industry. He will remain one of Australia’s most treasured music artists, described by the Prime Minister as a remarkable Australian who shared Yolngu language with the world through music.

Dr G Yunupingu stands among the many Yolngu leaders who have gone before him, including those who were signatories of the Yirrkala bark petitions that were tabled in Parliament this very week back in 1963. Family, friends, fellow Territorians, fans and followers will mark Dr G Yunupingu’s life and provide a final farewell on Tuesday, 19 September at the Darwin Convention Centre.

Today the Senate also provides its sincere condolences to the family and friends of Mr Yami Lester OAM, who passed away on 21 July 2017.

Born in the early 1940s in the APY Lands, on Granite Downs Station in the far north of South Australia, Yami, a Yankunytjatjara man, would go on to live a legacy of leadership that our country acknowledges with sincerity.

The stature of Mr Lester’s leadership was demonstrated in all he did, including as first chair of Pitjantjatjara Council, regional councillor, zone commissioner, driving force of the Institute of Aboriginal Development and chair of the Nganampa Health Council.

Mr Lester is a man who rose from personal tragedy. He was tragically blinded as a young man as a result of the black mist from the nuclear bomb test that blew through his homelands in South Australian when he was only a child. In the decades that followed, Mr Lester’s passion was to fight for justice and restoration for his people and rightful recognition.

He was courageous and persistent. He succeeded in delivering better outcomes for the community he served—for land rights, the health of his people, education, language and culture. He fought for a better future, better health, better education and better jobs.

In all of this, he demonstrated the power of his influence in bringing about major change.

At the state funeral, which I attended with my colleagues Senator Dodson and the member for Lingiari from the other place, I spoke with Mr Lester’s son, Leroy, who shared with me his father’s passion about improving school attendance in his own community.

Mr Lester knew the benefits education can bring not only to his people but to all Australians.

His record of achievement has left a legacy of better outcomes for his community, his people and his nation. Mr Lester advocated for the Pitjantjatjara land rights act. He was part of the historic handover of Uluru-Kata Tjuta, and we remember how he stood alongside Governor-General Sir Ninian Stephen in 1975 and interpreted speech.

He tirelessly advocated for the McMillan royal commission into the British nuclear test that later saw his people compensated.

Mr Lester’s leadership created a legacy that will not be forgotten. He will be remembered as a man of great strength, intelligence, courage and great kindness.

The Prime Minister has described Yami as an extraordinary Australian whose courageous life will be remembered forever.

Both Yami Lester and Dr G Yunupingu leave behind loving families and a nation that is better off for their contribution and worse off for their passing.

We the Australian government commemorate the remarkable lives they lived and pay respect to the legacy they leave. Vale Dr G Yunupingu and Yami Lester.

Part 2 Senator DODSON (Western Australia) :

Today I rise to commemorate the memory of two great Indigenous Australians who have passed since the last sitting of the Senate—Mr Yami (Kunmanara) Lester and Dr G Yunupingu, two blind Aboriginal men who had a vision for Australia. Despite their physical impairment they were far-seeing and insightful, and their lives give testament to their strength and resilience.

From humble beginnings in remote and isolated parts of our continent, one in the desert, the other in the saltwater country, they changed our nation for the better.

Of the two men, I knew Yami Lester the better.

I am proud to call him a friend, a leader and a mentor.

Last week, thanks to the generosity of the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, I was privileged to attend his state funeral in the remote South Australian community of Walatina.

Very few state funerals have occurred in a place so remote.

The hearse, a Land Cruiser embellished with flowers, stopped at a dry creek crossing.

Senior women travelling with his body took the opportunity to point to the dry creek bed at Walkinytjanu, in the middle of the desert, where Mr Lester was born.

While we waited for the Governor, the Premier, the South Australian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the Leader of the Opposition and other dignitaries we had a chance to feel the power of the simple birthplace, under the gum trees in the red sand, at a soakage in the desert.

Not far from that creek crossing, at Maralinga, when Yami Lester was a 12-year-old, the British government, in collusion with our Australian government, exploded a series of atomic weapons.

A black mist rolled over their lands, hurting the eyes of this young boy. After a relatively short period of time he became blind.

He believed this was as a direct result of this evil mist. He spent six or so years in a home in Adelaide, where only a younger person spoke his language, Yankunytjatjara. He became a ‘broomologist’, as he used to say, making brooms in the Adelaide school for the blind.

As an adult, with his wife Lucy, he moved to Alice Springs, where I came to know him and learn from his wisdom and insight into life and politics.

He became a leader of Aboriginal organisations there. With the late Reverend Jim Downing he established the Institute for Aboriginal Development, promoting Aboriginal language and culture against the grain of assimilation and forced social and cultural change.

They developed practical measures to assist families living in poverty and worked to reduce infant mortality by helping people to understand the causes of poor health and disease.

I recall giving a speech in Alice Springs on a topic I’ve now forgotten.

Yami pulled me up in the middle of the speech and said words that I took to heart. He said: ‘You’re a smart young man but you have to make a picture book for me in your speech; you need to paint a picture, so that I can see what you are talking about!’.

He was a leader in the struggle to establish Aboriginal controlled and managed organisations in Central Australia; to get recognition of land rights in South Australia; to get Uluru and Kata-Tjuta National Parks returned to traditional owners; and to establish a royal commission into the Maralinga tests.

In all of these struggles his wisdom, courage, determination and commitment were tempered by a wicked and irrepressible sense of humor and an infectious delight in life.

He was a mad supporter of the Melbourne Football Club.

This man, who could not see, showed us a vision of a reconciled Australia and led us on that path.

To his family—Lucy, Leroy, Rosemary and Karina—we express our thanks to you for allowing him to share his time with so many of us.

We wish you well in your future. At his funeral service, we were moved by the singing of Paul Kelly, whose song Maralinga told the story of Mr Lester.

Paul Kelly also worked with the second blind man I wish to commemorate today, Dr G Yunupingu, who brought his beautiful, ethereal voice, in his Yolngu language, to people across the world.

He was born on Elcho Island in the Northern Territory. As his song says, ‘I was born blind. I don’t know why.’ Dr G Yunupingu grew up in Galiwinku, the settlement on Elcho Island, off the north coast of Australia, which is over 500 kilometres northeast of Darwin.

Being blind, he spent his youth with his family absorbed in the Methodist mission environment, and become immersed in the world of music. He was a member of the famous Yothu Yindi band, whose classic song Treaty still resonates today, and the Saltwater Band. It was his solo albums that brought him fame and worldwide acclaim.

His amazing voice was complemented by the cello playing of his collaborator, friend and translator, Michael Hohnen.

Dr G Yunupingu performed for Her Majesty the Queen and for President Barack Obama, but it was the way in which his songs and music brought Yolngu culture and ideas into the minds of so many Australians that is his great gift to us all.

Dr G Yunupingu’s uncle—as the minister has said—senior Gumatj leader David Djunga Djunga Yunupingu, told the crowd in Darwin that his nephew had built a bridge between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians with music, but died before the country was truly at peace. He said:

He left us without knowing his place in this nation, without knowing true unity for all Australians.

Both men died, in part, due to kidney disease.

Dr Yunupingu had suffered from liver and kidney diseases for many years. He was just 46 years of age. Mr Lester died from end-stage renal failure.

He made the choice not to move from his home in Walatinna to Alice Springs for dialysis, allowing the disease to take him on his home country.

We’ve lost two great Aboriginal Australians to the scourge of renal disease. In this place we must mark the passing of these great Australians by committing ourselves to doing more to eradicate this epidemic.

Part 3 Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia )

It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing within days of each other of Mr Lester and Mr G Yunupingu.

Both men have made such a great contribution to this country.

I should say that Scott Ludlam would like to be here today to talk about and share his condolences for Mr Lester, because he worked with Mr Lester and other anti-nuclear campaigners to get justice and to campaign against the nuclear industry.

I think it was very fitting, and I’m so pleased, that Mr Lester got to see the commitment to the expansion of the gold card to those affected by the nuclear tests, in the budget in May.

I’m really pleased that he got to see that because he campaigned for such a long time for justice, for the people who are affected by the radiation from the British nuclear tests in Maralinga.

At least he got to see that.

It is a shame that Scott isn’t here to also add to the condolences.

Mr Dave Sweeney, who is a very well-known antinuclear campaigner and who worked with Mr Lester for a very long time, said of his passing:

We owe him a great debt because he faced adversity with understated courage, with humility, with humour, with great strength.

In a world without nuclear threats and risks Mr Lester would have been a great stockman. In a world with nuclear threats and risks he would crack his whip loud, hard, sharp and constant to sound a different alarm.

Mr Lester made it part of his life’s work to fight for people affected by nuclear testing and to campaign for Indigenous land rights, and we’ve just heard today what a success he made of that and what a difference he made.

Vale, Mr Lester, and our condolences go out to his family and friends.

Mr G Yunupingu—what a huge contribution he made to Australia and the world, sharing his music with the world.

It was such beautiful music which made such strong statements, such heartfelt statements, and enabled people to understand his culture through his words and his music.

His music is a lasting contribution to this country.

I was at Garma just a couple of weeks ago, where his legacy was celebrated and his passing very strongly felt.

You could feel it everywhere over the weekend at the time of Garma.

I just want to add, very briefly, to the comments that Senator Dodson just made around kidney disease and the need to address kidney disease in this country, given the impact it has had on these two great Aboriginal Australians.

People are aware that this has been discussed extensively in this chamber, and we need to keep talking about it until it gets the attention that it needs and we stop the going backwards and forwards between the state and territories and the Commonwealth about who pays for what.

It absolutely needs to be addressed. The causes need to be addressed, so that we don’t get to the point where we need end-stage treatment such as dialysis.

These two men’s legacies will constantly remind us of that.

Vale, Dr G Yunupingu and, as I said, the Greens add their condolences to this motion. I should also say thank you to Minister Scullion and Senator Dodson who ensured that we do get to commemorate these two great men in this chamber.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I now ask all senators to stand in silent support of the motion.

Question agreed to, honourable senators standing in their places.

One comment on “NACCHO Aboriginal Health : Tributes to Dr G Yunupingu and Mr Yami Lester – Men without sight but not without a vision

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