Without taking anything away from great directors and stars who managed to conquer Hollywood from Australia, the cinema of that immense land at our antipodes owes a lot to the great little David Gulpilil. His death, aged just 68 from lung cancer diagnosed in 2017, was announced by South Australian Premier Steven Marshall:
“It is with deep sadness that I share with the people of South Australia the passing of an iconic artist, one of those who define a generation and who have shaped the history of Australian cinema and Aboriginal representation on the screen, David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu”
Born on July 1, 1953, in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Gulpilil grew up in the Australian Bush without ever attending school and learning the English language on his own. Discovered by Nicolas Roeg during a ceremonial dance, at a time when Aborigines weren’t even counted in the national census, David Gulpilil made his big-screen debut in 1971’s tough Walkabout .
“All I know is to dance, sing, throw the spear, and hunt,” he said in a 2015 interview, recalling the teaching he received from his father: “he gave me a spear and told me to make sure you come back, the spear is life “. But cinema was a constant in his life. From The Last Wave by Peter Weir to the success of Crocodile Dundee to the splendid The Tracker (with which he fascinated the 2002 Venice Film Festival ), Ten Canoes and Charlie’s Country by Rolf de Heer, and the last Storm Boy of 2018.
“David’s early performances led writers, producers, and directors to believe that it was possible to have great Aboriginal characters of interest to a large audience.” Rolf de Heer
Thanks to the Dutch naturalized Australian director Gulpilil became a real international character, winning the Un Certain Regard Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival and being praised for his rehearsals in The Proposition (2005) and Australia by Baz Luhrmann. In addition to dancing for Queen Elizabeth for the inauguration of the Sydney Opera House in 1973 and receiving membership of the Order of Australia in 1987.
In July, receiving the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee’s Lifetime Achievement Award, he revealed his fight against cancer that ultimately killed him. “To all, thanks for watching me – he said in a video message. – Never forget me as long as I’m here. I will never forget you. I will remember you, even if it won’t last forever. I will remember ” . His last appearance will remain that of the 2021 documentary My Name is Gulpilil, directed by Molly Reynolds.