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Yami Lester speaks at Uluru Handback Ceremony
, 1985 (printed 2003)

by Juno Gemes

gelatin silver photograph (sheet: 51.0 x 60.8 cm, image: 28.9 x 44.0 cm)

Yami Lester OAM (1941–2017) was born at Walyatjata in the north of South Australia. A Yankunytjatjara man, as a youth he worked as a stockman, until at the age of sixteen he went blind after contracting the eye disease trachoma, almost certainly as a result of fallout from 1957's British nuclear bomb test at Maralinga. After moving to Adelaide Yami joined the Aboriginal Advancement League. He later worked as a court interpreter in Alice Springs and served with the Institute of Aboriginal Development and the Pitjantjatjara Land Council. Along with the efforts of others, his campaign on behalf of Maralinga's indigenous victims was instrumental in bringing about 1984's McClelland Royal Commission, which recommended group compensation for Maralinga's Tjarutja people and a clean-up of Uranium-contaminated Tjarutja lands. Yami Lester's life is recounted in the autobiography Yami – shortlisted for the 1993 NSW Premier's Prize – and also inspired Paul Kelly's 1987 song ‘Maralinga (Rainy Land)’.

Permission is given for the use of Yami’s name, voice and image by his immediate family.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the artist 2005
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number: 2005.49