Today comes with sad news of an Australian film icon’s passing: David Dalaithngu, credited throughout his career as David Gulpilil, has died of lung cancer in his Murray Bridge home, age 68.
Born in 1953, the Yolŋgu man undertook a remarkable 50-year-long screen career in many of the country’s most definitive films. His 2017 diagnosis of lung cancer was chronicled in his final role—as himself, in the documentary My Name is Gulpilil, which was described by Flicks’ Craig Mathieson as an “empathetic portrait of one of Australia’s finest actors.”
Higher Ground actor Wityana Marika, Dalaithngu’s son by lore, shared his wishes for how the legendary actor is to be remembered: “We are grieving the loss of our famous Yolŋgu man who started a great journey on his own. That name he carried, speaks for itself. That name he carried he was born powerful…I thank him, love him, rest in peace my father.”
As tributes from grieving film fans and peers pour in, it’s astounding to note Dalaithngu’s singular impact on so many celebrated Australian films since his discovery in 1971’s Walkabout. His career included a Cannes Best Actor Award for Charlie’s Country: just one of the actor and dancer’s many roles that brought Indigenous Australia’s storytelling to an international audience.
Dalaithngu’s family have advised that his image and name as a celebrated elder may be used, in accordance with traditional Yolŋgu bereavement practices.
The multi-faceted performer reminisced on his own legacy in the recent documentary directed by Molly Reynolds and produced by frequent collaborator Rolf De Heer, calling the film “my story of my story” as he spoke on regrets, living between two worlds, and his own impending passing.