A personal goodbye to Dr G Yunupingu, an artist I never knew

Kinderling News & Features

Image credit: Skinnyfish

Shevonne Hunt hosts Kinderling Conversation every weekday at 12pm.

Of our five senses, the ones that evoke the most vivid memories for me are taste, smell and hearing.

The world around me might change, but these three things can take me back to a time and a place, layered with memory and emotion.

Fresh white bread with peanut butter and a big glass of milk will bring back sunny weekend lunches with my dad (who has a penchant for fresh bread and a tall glass of milk). The perfume Red Door will forever be linked with my year on student exchange in Ecuador, and all the crazy, fun and lonely days I had there. The music of Dr G Yunupingu still takes me back five years, to the first months of my daughter’s life. We would play ‘Rrakala’ on rotation, letting the music surround and sooth us. When I hear it now, I think of sun filtering through a window, space filled with just my baby and I. It was a time when I felt ethereal, emptied out by sleeplessness, and filled up with the lightness of love. Yunupingu’s music was the perfect soundtrack to that time in my life.

He sang the Yolngu language, so I didn’t know what he was singing about. But it didn’t matter. It made the music feel more connected, more profound.

Singing in Yolngu was a profound thing because, in the past, white Australia has tried to systematically destroy the many hundreds of Indigenous languages that were here before us. He brought that language to white Australians like me, and made us see the beauty in it.

I’m sure I’m not the only parent who has played his music to their children.

A year after my daughter was born my husband and I went to see him perform at the Sydney Opera House. It was an incredible concert, where he sang songs and shared stories from his life and childhood in the remote community of Galiwin’ku on Elcho Island.  

According to his record label, Skinnyfish, his legacy is far greater than bringing peace, calm and joy to his audience. In a statement following his death they said, “Dr G. Yunupingu also gave back to his community as the driving force behind the G. Yunupingu Foundation, creating opportunities for young people across the Northern Territory. His legacy as a musician and community leader will continue as his life’s work continues its positive impact on Elcho Island, The Northern Territory, Australia and the world”.

Dr Yunupingu was notoriously shy and humble. It makes sense to me that his music was also something that felt deeply personal and private. For me, it’s where I enjoy his music the most, at home with my family, in the quiet and still moments when we get time to reflect on the small things in life. Like remembering when our children were babies, and we were just starting out on this parenting journey.

That’s what his music means to me, just a small part of the legacy he leaves behind. I wonder what his impact has been on you?