Get more from your money with up to 5.00% p.a. interest

with a National Seniors Term Deposit account

Representation matters

Northern Territory teacher, linguist, and community leader, Yalmay Yunupinu, has been named 2024 Senior Australian of the Year—the third person in her family to receive this incredible honour.

  • Autumn 2024
  • Member story
  • Read Time: 4 mins

Gentle, generous, and funny, 68-year-old Yalmay Yunupinu has touched many lives in north-east Arnhem Land. As a teacher and linguist, she guided teaching at Yirrkala Bilingual School for four decades, retiring in March last year. 

Often called the ‘mother of the school’, Yalmay began translating Dr Seuss books at the community library into her local Yolnu Matha language. 

She qualified as a teacher and, with her late husband Mandawuy Yunupinu (of Yothu Yindi fame), forged a bilingual teaching approach to make young people strong in their Yolnu language and culture. 

A respected elder, Yalmay is in constant demand for consultations, projects, and her traditional healing work. She helps everyone, always with a smile on her face. 

In 2005, she was named a Teacher of Excellence by the Northern Territory Department of Education and was an Honorary University Fellow at Charles Darwin University. Since retiring, she has been teaching the next generation about traditional healing. 

Asked how she felt about being named Senior Australian of the Year, Yalmay says, “I just want to teach the world, the nation, about our language. It’s very important. It talks about identity, who you are, where you come from. 

“We want to keep our language strong and alive. That’s why bilingual school is very important.”

Working together

Equal rights for Indigenous Australians through funding and support services are crucial, Yalmay says. 

“Together we can share new ideas to heal our nation ... let's all stand up and work together.” 

Incredibly, Yalmay is the third member of her family to win a national Australian of the Year award. 

Mandawuy was named Australian of the Year in 1992 for his role in building bridges of understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. 

Mandawuy, who gained a Bachelor of Education in 1987, taught alongside Yalmay at the Yirrkala Bilingual School and was the first Indigenous Australian to become a school principal. 

His brother, late Indigenous leader and activist, Galarrwuy Yunupingu, was the first in the family to be awarded Australian of the Year in 1978. 

He played a key role in negotiations surrounding the Ranger uranium mine, advocating for a fair distribution of profits among traditional owners of the land. 

Forty-six years later, Yalmay continues her family’s important legacy with her advocacy work. 

“It’s something important, it was very emotional for me, something that I never expected to receive, it’s … like a starting point where I can be speaking on behalf of not just Indigenous people but also the nation,” she says. 

Want to read more stories like this?

This article is featured in National Seniors Australia’s quarterly member magazine, Our Generation

Become a member today and receive a yearly subscription to Our Generation digital magazine as part of your membership, along with exclusive discounts, competitions, branch access and more! 

Your membership directly funds our advocacy and research work that benefits older Australians including fixing pension poverty, tackling health care costs, and improving aged care.

Find out more

We've got your back

With National Seniors, your voice is valued. Discover how we campaign for change on your behalf.

Learn more