News of the death of the extraordinary and talented Dr G Yunupingu broke overnight. He was 46.
Born in a remote Northern Territory Aboriginal community and blind from birth, he taught himself to play guitar upside down (he was left-handed, you see) and eventually sold more than half a million albums, becoming the highest selling Indigenous artist in history.
But some media reports (and I) aren’t mentioning his first name, nor are we showing an image of the musical genius who sang his way into many hearts in his native Yolngu language. Why aren’t we posting photos or writing his full name? Well, there are important issues surrounding the naming of Indigenous Australians who have died. The ABC’s editorial policies sums it up nicely.
“Bereavement practices vary in different communities and regions. There is often sensitivity to seeing and hearing the name, image or voice of Indigenous people who have died. The naming and depiction of recently deceased people is often prohibited under customary law and the mourning period may last for weeks, months or years. There may also be a preferred way of referring to the deceased person.”
In a nutshell, it’s up to a member of Dr G Yunupingu’s family or the elders of his community to determine how he should be referred to. Late on Tuesday night, just hours after his passing in Royal Darwin Hospital, Dr G Yunupingu’s record label released a statement breaking the sad news and referring to the deceased as Dr G Yunupingu.
“Skinnyfish Music and Dr G Yunupingu’s family ask for your respect at this time”.
So, until the family directs the media otherwise, the wonderfully talented and gentle Dr G Yunupingu should be referred to as just that.
And may he Rest In Peace.
*UPDATE 20 DEC 2017: STATEMENT FROM SKINNYFISH MUSIC REGARDING GURRUMUL YUNUPINGU
The final funeral ceremony for Gurrumul Yunupingu occurred on Friday 24th Nov at Galiwin’ku, Elcho Island.
The passing of any Yolngu person is usually accompanied by strict traditional protocols which preclude the use of the deceased’s name. The immediate family of Gurrumul have been clear throughout the grieving process that the contribution he made and continues to make to Australian and Yolngu cultural life should not be forgotten.
The family have given permission that following the final funeral ceremony, his name and image may once again be used publicly to ensure that his legacy will continue to inspire both his people and Australians more broadly.
The family thank the media and the Australian public for their support and respect throughout this period.
Lisa Herbert is a journalist and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, an informative, practical and amusing workbook for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. Your ideas, funeral plans, and life’s reflections will sit quietly in its pages until they’re needed. The second edition is available in Australia for $18.95, including postage. You can buy here.