Editor’s Note: This story has been amended to refer to the actor as David Dalaithngu, at his family’s request.
David Dalaithngu, a pioneering Indigenous Australian actor, has passed away aged 68.
The star was well known for appearances in films such as Walkabout, Storm Boy and Crocodile Dundee, and has been described as “one of the greatest artists Australia has ever seen”.
Announcing the news, South Australia premier Steven Marshall said in a statement: “It is with deep sadness that I share with the people of South Australia the passing of an iconic, once-in-a-generation artist who shaped the history of Australian film and Aboriginal representation on screen – David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu (AM).”
He added: “An actor, dancer, singer and painter, he was also one of the greatest artists Australia has ever seen.”
Dalaithngu came from the Mandhalpingu clan of the Yolŋu people and was raised in Arnhem Land. He later became a resident of Murray Bridge.
Marshall noted how his role in Nicolas Roeg’s 1971 film Walkabout “was the first time that many in Australia and internationally had seen an Aboriginal character portrayed on screen”.
He added: “He encountered racism and discrimination and lived with the pressures of the divide between his traditional lifestyle and his public profile.”
Dalaithngu was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2017, and his final project was the autobiographical documentary My Name Is Gulpilil, released earlier this year.
Some of his other credits included The Tracker, Rabbit-Proof Fence and Ten Canoes, and in 2014 he won the Un Certain Regard Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for Charlie’s Country.
Since the news broke, tributes have flooded in for the late star, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre founder Kon Karapanagiotidis writing: “Through his towering humanity on screen & talent David Gulpilil made us confront our shameful treatment of First Nations people’s & challenged us to learn from it & not look away.
“He taught me so much about how we’re on the land of worlds oldest living culture & I’m so grateful.”
Many more have shared tributes:
This is terrible news.
Vale David Gulpilil.
A giant of cinema.
A once in a century talent.
An incredible actor, painter, singer dancer.
One of the greatest our nation has ever seen
His extraordinary talent forced us to face into our nations history of genocide & racism
— Kon Karapanagiotidis (@Kon__K) November 29, 2021
Sad news that one of Australia’s greatest actors David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu has died. He possessed immense magnetism, skill & intelligence – in long shot or in close up he commanded the frame. As a storyteller, he also helped change the narrative of this country.
— Jason Di Rosso (@jdrrr) November 29, 2021
Vale David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu. rest in peace and power ❤️
— chloe sargeant (@chlosarge) November 29, 2021
Absolutely devastating news. Vale, David Gulpilil. He forever changed the way Australian film represents Indigenous people and their cultural heritage. Never forgotten ❤️ https://t.co/uCAijoDkzk
— NFSA -National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (@NFSAonline) November 29, 2021
Farewell David Gulpilil. A true icon of Australian cinema. A heartbreaking loss.
— Madman Films (@MadmanFilms) November 29, 2021
Absolutely devastating to learn that we’ve lost one of the greatest to ever do it. Vale David Gulpilil 🖤
— Shari Niliwil Sebbens (@sharileesebbo) November 29, 2021
RIP David Gulpilil – extraordinary actor and Mandjalpingu man who helped the world understand Aboriginal culture more. Star in films like Walkabout, Storm Boy, Rabbit Proof Fence. In death, he said he wanted to return to his home country in Northern Territory https://t.co/RYtUoc4NDT
— Tony Tassell (@TonyTassell) November 29, 2021