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Indigenous Law Bulletin

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Kauffman, Paul --- "The Passing of an Aurukun Hero: Francis Yunkaporta" [1999] IndigLawB 27; (1999) 4(19) Indigenous Law Bulletin 22

The Passing of an Aurukun Hero
Francis Yunkaporta

Born 1 July 1923 Aurukun

Died 29 October 1998 Aurukun

Francis Yunkaporta was a charismatic leader of the Aboriginal people of Cape York. His country was the Cape Keerweer area which had been insulated from the impact of white Australian culture until the 1920s.

After working as a stockman on nearby stations, Yunkaporta returned to Aurukun in 1968. He served as Chairman of the Aurukun Council for ten years until 1978 and was a driving force behind the numerous legal challenges made by Aurukun against the Queensland Government in the community's attempts to assert their rights. He also organised payments of one shilling a week by Aurukun community members in the 1960s to form the first North Queensland Land Council.

As Chairman, Francis was involved in the Weipa-Comalco dispute and negotiations over bauxite mining, which led in 1975 to a Supreme Court case against mining on traditional lands: Director of Aboriginal and Islanders Advancement v Peinkinna (1978). The community fought the case all the way to the Privy Council in London, which ratified the Queensland Government's Aurukun Associates Agreement Act 1975 (QId). Yunkaporta was also a member of Aurukun Council when it opposed the Bjelke-Petersen Government's attempt in 1978 to take over the Aurukun Aboriginal Reserve which had been adminstered by the Uniting Church.

He was also one of the key strategists behind the Wik People's High Court challenge. His niece, Gladys Tybingoompa, danced (prematurely as it turned out) in front of the High Court when the Court handed down the Wik judgment on 23 December 1996. He was lobbying against the Howard Government's Native Title Amendment Bill up until a few months before he died in Aurukun in October 1998, close to his ancestral dreaming sites. He is survived by his wife Bertha, six children and numerous grandchildren. He will be remembered for his wit, selflessness intelligence and humanity.

Paul Kauffman

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