Aboriginal ‘giant of a nation’ Yunupingu dies aged 74

One of Australia’s most influential Aboriginal leaders Yunupingu has died after a long illness in the Northern Territory, aged 74.

Yunupingu was a trailblazer in the fight for land rights and the constitutional recognition of Indigenous people in Australia.

The Gumatj clan leader was named Australian of the Year in 1978.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese led tributes to him, saying he had been a great leader and statesman.

Note to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers: Yunupingu’s last name and image are used here according to the wishes of his family.

“Yunupingu walked in two worlds within authority, power and grace, and he worked to make them whole – together,” Mr Albanese wrote on Twitter.

“He is now walking in another place, but he has left such great footsteps for us to follow in this one.”

Yunupingu rose to prominence in the land rights movement in the 1960s, and was part of the first Australian legal case which tested the native title rights of First Nations people.

Over the next 50 years Yunupingu went on to advise successive governments and was also celebrated as a singer, artist and promoter of Indigenous culture.

He helped set up the Northern Land Council, which represents traditional owners in the Northern Territory’s Top End, and also helped create the Yothu Yindi Foundation, which is one of the peak advocacy bodies for Aboriginal Australians.

He received an Order of Australia medal for his services to the Aboriginal community in 1985.

In recent years he advocated for constitutional recognition of Indigenous people through the Voice to Parliament, on which a national referendum will take place later this year.

His daughter, Binmila Yunupingu, said her father’s death was a profound loss.

“Yunupingu lived his entire life on his land, surrounded by the sound of bilma (clapsticks), yidaki (didgeridoo) and the manikay (sacred song) and dhulang (sacred designs) of our people. He was born on our land… and he died on our land secure in the knowledge that his life’s work was secure,” she said.

The Yothu Yindi Foundation described Yunupingu as “a giant of the nation”.

“He was first and foremost a leader of his people, whose welfare was his most pressing concern and responsibility,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

Additional reporting by Tom Houseden.