Yothu Yindi

Yothu Yindi (Yolngu for "child and mother", pronounced ) are an Australian musical group with Aboriginal and balanda (non-Aboriginal) members, formed in 1986 as a merger of two bands formed in 1985 – a White rock group called the Swamp Jockeys and an unnamed Aboriginal folk group. The Aboriginal members came from Yolngu homelands near Yirrkala on the Gove Peninsula in Northern Territory's Arnhem Land. Founding members included Stuart Kellaway on bass guitar, Cal Williams on lead guitar, Andrew Belletty (Drums), Witiyana Marika on manikay (traditional vocals), bilma (ironwood clapsticks) and dance, Milkayngu Mununggurr on yidaki (didgeridoo), Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu on keyboards, guitar and percussion, and leader passed Mandawuy Yunupingu and present Yirrnga Yunupingu on vocals and guitar.

The band combines aspects of both musical cultures. Their sound varies from traditional Aboriginal songs to modern pop and rock songs, where they blended the typical instruments associated with pop/rock bands, such as guitars and drums, with the traditional yidaki and bilma. They adapted traditional Yolngu dance performances to accompany their music. More broadly, they promoted mutual respect and understanding in the coming together of different cultures. Yothu Yindi's most widely known song, "Treaty", peaked at No. 11 on the ARIA singles charts in 1991 and the related album Tribal Voice peaked at No. 4 on the ARIA albums charts. The second single from Tribal Voice was "Djäpana (Sunset Dreaming)", which peaked at No. 13 in 1992. Their debut album was Homeland Movement in 1988 on Mushroom Records; other albums are Tribal Voice in 1991, Freedom in 1993, Birrkuta – Wild Honey in 1996, One Blood in 1998 and Garma in 2000.

The group established the Yothu Yindi Foundation in 1990 to promote Yolngu cultural development, including from 1999 producing the annual Garma Festival of Traditional Cultures and from May 2007 running the Dilthan Yolngunha (Healing Place). Chairman of the foundation is Galarrwuy Yunupingu. He is Mandawuy's older brother, a Yolgnu clan leader and sometimes a member of Yothu Yindi on bilma and guitar. Galarrwuy had been named Australian of the Year in 1978 for his work for Aboriginal communities and Mandawuy was Australian of the Year for 1992 for his work with Yothu Yindi. In December 2012, the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) inducted the band into the ARIA Hall of Fame, as part of the ARIA Music Awards of 2012.

Early years: 1986–1990

Swamp Jockeys were formed in 1985 by balanda (European/non-Aboriginal people) Andrew Belletty on drums, Stuart Kellaway on bass guitar and Cal Williams on lead guitar. On their tour of Arnhem Land, in Australia's Northern Territory, they were supported by a Yolngu band composed of Witiyana Marika on manikay (traditional vocals), bilma (ironwood clapsticks) and dance, Milkayngu Mununggurr on yidaki (didgeridoo), Gurrumul 'The Guru' Yunupingu on keyboards, guitar and percussion, and Bakamana Yunupingu on vocals and guitar. They united to form Yothu Yindi (pronounced ), yothu yindi is a Yolngu matha (Yolngu language) kinship term for "child and mother". The band combines aspects of both musical cultures. Their sound varies from traditional Aboriginal songs to modern pop and rock songs in which they blend the typical instruments of pop/rock bands, such as guitars and drums, with the traditional yidaki and bilma. They have adapted traditional Yolngu dance performances to accompany their music. More broadly they promote mutual respect and understanding of different cultures.

Bakamana Yunupingu was a tertiary student studying to become a teacher. He became principal at his own Yirrkala Community School, and touring by Yothu Yindi was restricted to school holidays in the band's early years. In August 1988 they performed in Townsville, Queensland, at the South Pacific Festival of Arts. The next month they represented Australia in Seoul, South Korea at the Cultural Olympics. Bart Willoughby (ex-No Fixed Address, Coloured Stone) joined on drums in late 1988 and Yothu Yindi toured USA and Canada as support act to Midnight Oil. Upon their return to Australia, they were signed to Mushroom Records, and with Leszek Karski (ex-Supercharge) producing, recorded their debut single "Mainstream", released in March 1989. It was followed by debut album Homeland Movement in May; a second single "Djäpana (Sunset Dreaming)" was released in August. Neither their singles nor album had any major chart success. Yothu Yindi toured with Neil Young in Australia, then head-lined in Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong. In 1990 they toured New Zealand with Tracy Chapman, and then performed in festivals in the UK. In 1990 five clans of the Yolngu formed the Yothu Yindi Foundation to promote Yulngu cultural development. Chairman of the foundation is Galarrwuy Yunupingu, Mandawuy's older brother, a Yolngu clan leader and sometimes a member of Yothu Yindi on bilma and guitar. Galarrwuy had been named Australian of the Year in 1978 for his work for Aboriginal communities. Around this time, a relative of Bakamana's who bore the same name died, and he therefore changed his first name to Mandawuy in line with Yolngu tradition.

The band commissioned their friend and relative (he was married to Gurrumul's sister), master yiḏaki-maker Djalu Gurruwiwi, to make their didgeridoos, which also brought his skills to the attention of the world.

"Treaty" and Tribal Voice: 1991–1992

In 1988, as part of Bicentennial celebrations, Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke visited the Northern Territory for the Barunga festival where he was presented with a statement of Aboriginal political objectives by Galarrwuy Yunupingu and Wenten Rubuntja. Hawke responded to the Barunga Statement with a promise that a treaty would be concluded with Indigenous Australians by 1990. By 1991, Yothu Yindi were Hughie Benjamin on drums, Sophie Garrkali and Julie Gungunbuy as dancers, Kellaway, Marika, Mununggurr, Gurrumul Yunupingu, Makuma Yunupingu on yidaki, vocals, bilma, Mandawuy Yunupingu, Mangatjay Yunupingu as a dancer. Mandawuy, with his older brother Galarrwuy, wanted a song to highlight the lack of progress on the treaty between Aboriginal peoples and the federal government. Mandawuy recalls:

Bob Hawke visited the Territory. He went to this gathering in Barunga. And this is where he made a statement that there shall be a treaty between black and white Australia. Sitting around the camp fire, trying to work out a chord to the guitar, and around that camp fire, I said, "Well, I heard it on the radio. And I saw it on the television." That should be a catchphrase. And that's where 'Treaty' was born.

"Treaty" was written by Australian musician Paul Kelly and Yothu Yindi members Mandawuy Yunupingu, Kellaway, Williams, Gurrumul Yunupingu, Mununggurr and Marika. The initial release had little interest, but when Melbourne-based dance remixers Filthy Lucre's Gavin Campbell and Robert Goodge adapted the song, their version peaked at No. 11 on the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) singles charts by September. The song contains lyrics in both English and in Yolngu matha. It was accompanied by a video showing band members performing vocals, music, and dance.

Success for the single was transferred to the related album Tribal Voice which peaked at No. 4 on the ARIA albums charts, The album, produced by Mark Moffatt for Mushroom Records, was released in September 1991. Mandawuy Yunupingu took leave of absence from his duties as principal to tour and promote the single and album. Other singles from the album were a re-released "Djäpana (Sunset Dreaming)" which peaked at No. 13 in 1992 and "Tribal Voice" which didn't reach the Top 50. At the 1992 ARIA Awards Yothu Yindi won awards for 'Best Cover Art' for Tribal Voice by Louise Beach and Mushroom Art; 'Engineer of the Year' for "Maralitja" (maralitja is Yolngu matha for crocodile man – one of Mandawuy's tribal names), "Dharpa" (dharpa is tree), "Treaty", "Treaty (Filthy Lucre remix)" and "Tribal Voice" by David Price, Ted Howard, Greg Henderson and Simon Polinski; 'Best Indigenous Release' for Tribal Voice; 'Song of the Year' for "Treaty"; and 'Single of the Year' for "Treaty". Both "Treaty" in 1992 and "Djäpana (Sunset Dreaming)" in 1993 charted on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play singles charts, with "Treaty" peaking at No. 6, Tribal Voice peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Top World Music Albums chart in 1992.

In October 1992, then Prime Minister Paul Keating's government awarded Yothu Yindi with a $30,000 grant. The money was used to travel to New York, where they performed at the United Nations for the launch of International Year for the World's Indigenous People. Mandawuy Yunupingu was named Australian of the Year by the Keating government on 26 January 1993. His older brother, Galarrwuy had been named Australian of the Year in 1978 for his work for Aboriginal communities.

In 2009 'Treaty' was added to the National Film and Sound Archive's Sounds of Australia Registry.

Later years: 1993–present

At the 1993 ARIA Awards, Yothu Yindi won 'Best Video', directed by Stephen Johnson, and 'Best Indigenous Release' for "Djäpana" and 'Engineer of the Year' for Greg Henderson's work on "Djäpana" and "Tribal Voice". Yothu Yindi's third album Freedom was released in November 1993, the line-up included Mandawuy, Gurrumul, Makuna and Mangatjay Yunupingu, Marika, Williams, Kellaway, Benjamin and Munumggurr; and new members Banula Marika on vocals and dance, Bunimburr Marika on yidaki, Natalie Gillespie on vocals, Jodie Cockatoo Creed on vocals and clan leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu on bilma and vocals. After intense touring in 1994, Williams left Yothu Yindi and was replaced by Colin Simpson on guitar, they added Ben Hakalitz (ex-Not Drowning Waving) on drums and Baruka Tau-Matagu on keyboards. Gurrumul Yunupingu had left by 1995 to live full-time on Elcho Island, he later formed Salt Water Band to record three albums, and in 2007 released his self-titled solo album. Yothu Yindi's fourth album Birrkuta (birrkuta means wild honey) was released in August 1996.

"I Am Australian" is a popular song written in 1987 by Dobe Newton of The Bushwackers and Bruce Woodley of The Seekers. It was released as a single in 1997 by trio Judith Durham of The Seekers, Russell Hitchcock from Air Supply and Yothu Yindi's Mandawuy Yunupingu by EMI Australia and it peaked at No. 17 on the ARIA Singles Charts in June.

Yothu Yindi's fifth album One Blood was released in 1999 and included "Treaty '98". They sponsored the Yothu Yindi Foundation, which produces the annual Garma Festival of Traditional Cultures celebrating Yolngu culture from 1999, and their sixth album Garma was released in 2000, with Cal Williams returning on guitars. In 2000, Yothu Yindi performed at the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games. On 9 August 2000, 30-year-old Betsy Yunupingu was kicked in the head. She subsequently died, Yothu Yindi band member Gavin Makuma Yunupingu was found guilty of "committing a dangerous act causing death" and in June 2002 he was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment at Berrimah Jail, Darwin. Gavin is the son of Galarrwuy and nephew of Mandawuy.

In May 2001 the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA), as part of its 75th-anniversary celebrations, named "Treaty" as one of the Top 30 Australian songs of all time. In 2003 Yothu Yindi toured through Northern Territory schools with Mandawuy Yunupingu, yidaki players Gapanbulu Yunupingu and Nicky Yunupingu, and Kellaway using songs, storytelling and open discussions to inspire and encourage some of Australia's most vulnerable young people to attend school and stay healthy. The Yothu Yindi Foundation in May 2007 established the Dilthan Yolngunha (Healing Place) using traditional healing practices and mainstream medicines. On 23 July 2008 a 23-year-old woman was stabbed numerous times; "yidaki" player N. Yunupingu, who was described by Northern Territory police as the offender, was later found dead by hanging. N. Yunupingu was the nephew of both Galarrwuy and Mandawuy Yunupingu, and, as members of Yothu Yindi, they had just played a concert for Prime Minister Kevin Rudd some hours before the stabbing of the woman, who was admitted to hospital, and N. Yunupingu's subsequent death.

In 2009, reported that Yothu Yindi lead singer Mandawuy Yunupingu needed a kidney transplant due to chronic alcoholism. Yunupingu said he drank up to four cartons of alcohol a day. "Alcohol was a big influence in my life. I didn't know what harm it did to my body. Before I knew, it was too late," he said.

The "best of" compilation, Healing Stone, was released in November 2012 which included the new track "Healing Stone", produced by Andrew Farriss of INXS.

In December 2012 Yothu Yindi were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame, with Peter Garrett (then a former member of Midnight Oil, who has since reformed) and Paul Kelly introducing the group.

On 2 June 2013 lead singer M. Yunupingu died of renal failure. In line with Yolngu cultural protocols, on 4 June 2013 the family requested that the first names of the deceased no longer be used until further notice.


Arranged alphabetically, current members in bold.
  • Andrew Belletty  – drums
  • Hughie Benjamin  – drums
  • Jodie Cockatoo Creed  – vocals
  • Matt Cunliffe  – keyboards
  • Sophie Garrkali  – dancer
  • Natalie Gillespie  – vocals
  • Julie Gungunbuy  – dancer
  • Ben Hakalitz  – drums
  • Robbie James  – guitar
  • Stuart Kellaway  – bass guitar
  • Banula Marika  – vocals, dance
  • Bunimburr Marika  – yidaki (didgeridoo)
  • Witiyana Marika  – manikay (traditional vocals), bilma (ironwood clapsticks), dancer
  • Milkayngu Mununggurr  – yidaki
  • Tom Neil  – harmonica/triangle player
  • Baruka Tau-Matagu  – keyboards
  • Cal Williams  – guitar
  • Bart Willoughby  – drums
  • Galarrwuy Yunupingu  – vocals, bilma, guitar
  • Gapanbulu Yunupingu  – yidaki
  • Gavin Makuma Yunupingu  – yidaki, bilma, vocals
  • Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu  – keyboards, guitar, percussion, yidaki, vocals (died 2017)
  • Mandawuy Yunupingu  – singer-songwriter, guitar (died 2013)
  • Malngay Kevin Yunupingu  – yidaki, bilma, dancer, vocals
  • Mangatjay Yunupingu  – dancer
  • Narripapa Nicky Yunupingu  – yidaki, dancer (died 2008)
  • Yunupingu Makuma Gurrumul Narripapa Mununggurr Yunupingu Marika, vocals


  • 1991 – Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Songwriting Award for "Treaty".

    ARIA Awards

    Yothu Yindi has won eight Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Music Awards from 14 nominations. In 2012 they were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame.|- | | 1990 || Homeland Movement || Best Indigenous Release || |- | rowspan="6"| 1992 || Louise Beach / Mushroom Art – Tribal Voice || Best Cover Art || |- | | Tribal Voice || Best Indigenous Release || |- | rowspan="2"| "Treaty (Filthy Lucre Remix)" || Best Video || |- | | Single of the Year || |- | | "Treaty" || Song of the Year || |- | | David Price, Ted Howard, Greg Henderson, Simon Polinski – "Maralitja", "Dharpa", "Treaty", "Treaty (Filthy Lucre Remix)", "Tribal Voice" || Engineer of the Year || |- | rowspan="3"| 1993 || "Djapana" || Best Indigenous Release || |- | | Stephen Johnson – "Djapana" || Best Video || |- | | Greg Henderson – "Djapana", "Tribal Voice" || Engineer of the Year || |- | | 1994 || Freedom || Best Indigenous Release || |- | | 1995 || "Dots on the Shells" with Neil Finn || Best Indigenous Release || |- | | 1997 || Birrkuta – Wild Honey || Best Indigenous Release || |- | | 2012 || Yothu Yindi || ARIA Hall of Fame ||


  • Homeland Movement (1988)
  • Tribal Voice (1991)
  • Freedom (1993)
  • Birrkuta – Wild Honey (1996)
  • One Blood (1998)
  • Garma (2000)