19 September 2017, Darwin, Australia
“I was born and blind and I don’t know why. God knows why, because he love me so”.
Thank you Jessica, Manuel and the Y boys for your beautiful and moving rendition.
God did know why, though we, as flawed and finite mortals, can ourselves only guess and wonder.
Perhaps it was so a little boy from Elcho Island discovered his first pleasures not in the prodigious light and colour of that place, but in the sounds of sticks on tin cans in the sand – small cans, big cans, sharp sounds, deep sounds, rearranged and rearranged again.
Perhaps it was so that little boy expanded his curious mind not in what could be absorbed through the eyes, but in the infinite mathematics of music – the contours, the shapes, the peaks, valleys and trails of a 12-key piano accordion, guitar, and church hymns.
Perhaps it was so he felt the weight of song and language so keenly that, when combined with those other gifts bestowed by God, he would as a man make others as far away as Los Angeles, London and New York feel that weight, too.
That this humble Yolngu man from Elcho Island, could one day show the world its humanity through the passion, love and poetry of his people.
That through music, the world would come to hear, and even sing along with, the most ancient, living languages on earth.
That through music, he would remind us that while we are all unique in our colours, shapes and histories, we are all fundamentally the same.
Black or white, our skin goose-bumps at his melodies Brown or blue, our eyes close to absorb his voice.
He would soothe and sleep crying infants of all cultures.
His music is instantly of the Territory, its people and its languages, but it resonates far beyond our borders - and will forever more - because it is the music of humanity.
It is something deeper, something nourishing, something shared. In a 2008 interview, Dr Yunupingu said:
“When I hear that non-Aboriginal people start crying when they hear my music I am pleased to hear it, as it means we are all sharing the same experience and that there is not so much difference between us - black and white.”
Dr Yunupingu never sought fame, nor audiences with the Queen or Barack Obama.
He never sought ARIAs, NIMAs, Deadly Awards, A.I.R Awards, Limelight Awards, Northern Territory Indigenous Music Awards, APRA Awards or Helpmann Awards.
He remained a humble man. He remained a traditional Yolngu man. But the audiences and accolades found him because God had a plan. “I was born and blind and I don’t know why. God knows why, because he love me so”.
It is one of the honours of my life that I can stand here today to give thanks on behalf of Territorians to the man and his creator.
I give thanks on behalf of all the people of the world who, like me, weren’t fortunate enough to know him intimately - his warm personality or sense of humour - but who came to know him through music.
Today, as we remember and say thanks for Dr Yunupingu, I stand on the lands of the Larrakia. There are ancient and still-powerful connections to all Northern Territory lands.
People lived, loved, raised families, sang and danced here for a thousand generations before our own and will do for a thousand more.
Dr Yunupingu’s music speaks of the Yolngu connection to land and family. His connection to land and family.
Through his song, and in the most modern of ways - playlists, Spotify, MP3s, CDs - we live, know and share an ancient cultural legacy.
Through his song, we live, know and share love. We are richer for it. The world is richer for it.
I say thank you.
I say Yakurr djil’ngi yothu djarimi. Rest in Peace, Rainbow Child.