Honouring Yalmay Yunupiŋu, 2024 Senior Australian of the Year

In January of each year, the annual Senior Australian of the Year Award recognises the outstanding achievements of older people across each state and territory in Australia.

Through this Award, we celebrate the vital contribution that older people make to Australia, the passion and commitment of the award winners to helping others, living well, staying healthy, and maintaining their connection to community.

This year we celebrate the extraordinary achievements of Yalmay Yunupiŋu, teacher, linguist and community leader – recognising her outstanding contributions to First Nations education and culture. Described as “gentle, generous and funny” – she guided teaching at Yirrkala Bilingual School for four decades, retiring in March 2023.

Yalmay started by translating Dr Seuss books at the community library into her local Yolŋu Matha language. She qualified as a teacher and, with her husband forged a bilingual teaching approach to make young people strong in their Yolŋu 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 awarded a ‘Teacher of Excellence’ by the Northern Territory Department of Education and was an Honorary University Fellow at the Charles Darwin University.

Since retiring, she has been teaching the next generation about traditional healing.

The 2024 nominees each made significant contribution to their communities, with areas ranging from multicultural advocacy to medical care, animal welfare, education, and social welfare. The nominees included:

  • Ebenezer Banful OAM (ACT) – a dedicated volunteer and multiculturalism advocate
  • Glenys Oogjes (VIC) – who has been instrumental in shaping Australian animal welfare
  • John Ward (NSW) – who has devoted his life to providing medical care for disadvantaged and ageing Australians
  • Reverent Robyn and Reverend Dr Lindsay Burch (QLD) – from the Gold Coast who are founders of the food charity Havafeed Relief
  • Yalmay Yunupiŋu (NT) – an esteemed teacher and linguist
  • Sister Meredith Evans (SA) – a Sister of Mercy known for her contributions to education and community service
  • Charlie Bass (WA) – an innovator and founder of the Centre of Entrepreneurial Research and Innovation
  • Reverend James Colville AM (TAS) – the founder of Tasmanian housing non-profit Colony 47.

We take this opportunity to congratulate all of the nominees for this auspicious Award.