In his early years, Galarrwuy Yunupingu attended Mission School at Yirrkalaand for a two-year period he moved to Brisbane to study at the Methodist Bible College, before returning to Gove in 1967. Yunupinguentered the struggle for land rights in the early 1960s with his father Mungurrawuy, who as Gumatjclan leader, fought and lost the battle to stop a bauxite mine operating on his land. Yunupinguwas his father's interpreter throughout the historic Gove land rights case in 1971.
After his father's death in 1979, Yunupingu, a well-respected member of the wider community, became a very prominent leader and strong voice on behalf of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory and Australia. He was Chairman of the Northern Land Council from 1977-2004 and in 2001 was elected as co-chair of the Aboriginal Development Consultative Forum in Darwin.
His honours include Australian of the Year (1978), the Order of Australia (1985), and an honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) from the University of Melbourne.