Yunupingu voices hope for change to constitution

TWENTY years after releasing Treaty, the song that became an anthem of the reconciliation movement, Yothu Yindi's front man, Mandawuy Yunupingu, has embraced constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians as the next step towards ''a truly united Australia''.

The 56-year-old elder from north-east Arnhem Land used the occasion of the band's induction into the recording industry's hall of fame last night to declare constitutional recognition would meet the principal objectives of a treaty.

''As musicians, recognition from our peers is important to us. As Aboriginal Australians, recognition from our constitution is even more important,'' an emotional Yunupingu said before performing Treaty.

Several indigenous artists, including Melbourne-based Dan Sultan, wore T-shirts backing the push for a referendum after next year's election to recognise indigenous Australians, their language and culture and remove the last vestiges of racism from the constitution.

''Constitutional recognition is not a left or right-wing issue, it's not a black or white or a political issue. It's about what the right thing to do is,'' said Sultan.

Inducting Yunupingu and the band were two artists who collaborated on Treaty, Paul Kelly and Peter Garrett, who flew to Sydney after participating in Parliament's last torrid sitting for the year.

A nostalgic Yunupingu recalled how he wrote the words of Treaty with Paul Kelly at Kelly's Sydney home, and how Garrett, then frontman for Midnight Oil, contributed during the recording of the song.

Despite still battling chronic kidney disease, Yunupingu said he was feeling good and excited at the prospect of last night's reunion and performance.

Kelly told how he first saw Yothu Yindi more than 20 years ago when the band was opening up for Midnight Oil in Chicago. ''They are not so much a band as a physical philosophy,'' Kelly said.

''All great art contains contradictions and their art has always rested on holding opposites together - the modern and the tribal, the parent and the child, balanda and yongul, freshwater and saltwater, seriousness and celebration,'' he said.

Garrett said it was the band's ''vision, songs from the heart, of country and of conscience that marked them as a special band'', one that broke down barriers and forged a path for others to follow.

Yunupingu said he believed there was a real connect between the aspiration of the treaty and constitutional recognition.

While the song was spurred by the Hawke government's failure to honour a promise to enter into a treaty, he said the aim had always been to raise public awareness about the need for a settlement or reconciliation.

That ambition, he believed, was now within reach.

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