As the end of the year approaches, there is time to pause and reflect on the lives of those who died during the year.
And this year, as is true of every year, Australia lost some remarkable newsmakers. Sports people, activists, musicians, journalists, actors, pioneers of science and medicine, politicians…
Each of these people had fascinating and diverse life stories. Let’s take a closer look at a few of them.
Gurrumul Yunupingu: Blind Indigenous musician
Yunupingu, who was born on Elcho Island in the Arafura Sea, grew up singing in the choir of the Methodist mission.
He taught himself to play the guitar and sang in Indigenous languages. Sting, Quincy Jones and Elton John were fans.
His death from chronic — and preventable — disease prompted public outcry.
“He was a shy, humble and wonderful young man, who turned out to have such a fantastic voice.”
He was referred to as Dr G Yunipingu after his death, but his family have since given permission for his name and image to be used publicly to “ensure that his legacy will continue to inspire both his people and Australians more broadly”.
Les Murray: Football commentator
Born Laszlo Urge in Hungary, he came to Australia at 11 as a refugee, unable to speak English.
At the time of his death, Murray was a highly-regarded broadcaster and known as Australia’s “Mr Football”.
He is credited with being the man who taught us to love “the world game” but did not see his first soccer ball until he was at school.
Betty Cuthbert: Athlete and four-time Olympic gold medallist
Australia’s “Golden Girl”, Betty Cuthbert was an inspiration to hundreds of track and field athletes who followed in her footsteps.
The sprinter, who won four Olympic gold medals, remains the only athlete to have triumphed in the 100, 200 and 400 metres.
She set 16 world records and in 2012 she was inducted into the IAAF Hall of Fame.
Mark Colvin: Journalist and broadcaster
Mark Colvin, whose familiar voice and sharp intellect could be heard over ABC radio explaining the world to Australia, came to journalism quite by accident after failing as a builder’s labourer.
He went on to become one of the country’s most respected journalists and over four decades was known as a broadcaster, presenter, foreign correspondent, author and filmmaker.
“I was a half-English dilettante with an arts degree and a pommy accent,” he said.
Connie Johnson: Philanthropist
Together with her brother Samuel, Connie Johnson raised the profile of breast cancer through their charity Love Your Sister, raising more than $4 million for research.
Along the way, her seven-year battle with the disease inspired the nation to barrack for her.
The day before her death, she was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia by the Governor-General.
John Clarke: Satirist and comedian
Clarke was a man of diverse talents — a comedian, a satirist, an actor and writer of television, film and stage musicals.
For 27 years, he appeared on Australian television conducting mock interviews and skewering politicians with his comedy partner, Bryan Dawe.
Clarke was born in New Zealand, but made his name as a comedian and political satirist in Australia after arriving in the 1970s.
After his death, he was praised by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and New Zealand’s then-prime minister Bill English for his “noble” satire and his humour.
George and Malcolm Young: Iconic musicians
Brothers George and Malcolm were pioneers of the Australian music scene, George as a producer who created a new sound, and Malcolm as guitarist and songwriter and AC/DC’s “driving force”.
George co-wrote the enduring hit Friday on My Mind and was a member of the Easybeats before becoming AC/DC’s producer.
Malcolm’s guitar playing underpinned the band’s sound and is said to have influenced hard rock for decades.
Dr Evelyn Scott: Indigenous rights activist
Dr Scott was a trailblazing Indigenous educator and social justice campaigner and a leading figure in the decades-long campaign to change how Indigenous people were referred to in the constitution.
The 1967 referendum remains the most successful in Australian history.
“Our struggle for Indigenous rights and equality is bound up inextricably with the rights of all Australians. Our freedom is your freedom,” she said.
Fiona Richardson: Politician
As Australia’s first minister for the prevention of family violence, Victorian MP Fiona Richardson was at the peak of her career.
She was known for her advocacy in giving a voice to those experiencing injustice and had a fierce determination for change.
She died one day after announcing she was taking time off to focus on her health.
“She didn’t always tell you what you wanted to hear, but she told you what you needed to know.”
Look back on more:
- Florence Bjelke-Petersen — former Queensland senator
- Jesse Cox — radio producer and podcast maker
- Judith McGrath — actor
- Gillian Rolton — equestrian and Olympian
- Sol Bellear — Aboriginal activist
- Clarrie Millar — former Queensland politician (dad to Lisa Millar)
- Dean Mercer — former Ironman
- Rory O’Donoghue — singer, actor, songwriter, comedian