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Legendary Australian actor David Gulpilil dies

Warning: This story contains the name and images of a deceased Indigenous person.

David Gulpilil’s name and image have been reproduced with his family’s consent.

Legendary actor and artist David Gulpilil has been described as a “once-in-a-generation” icon following the announcement of his death, aged 68.

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall released a statement on Monday night, describing Gulpilil as “one of the greatest artists Australia has ever seen” after the star lost his four year battle with lung cancer.

“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),” Mr Marshall said.

David Gulpilil.
Camera IconDavid Gulpilil. Credit: Supplied /Supplied

“David Gulpilil was from the Mandhalpingu clan of the Yolngu people, and was raised in the traditional ways in Arnhem land. In his later years he was a resident of Murray Bridge. He was a brother, son, friend, father, grandfather and husband.

“An actor, dancer, singer and painter, he was also one of the greatest artists Australia has ever seen.”

Gulpilil rose to fame following his breakout role in the 1971 iconic film Walkabout.

In the iconic film, by British director Nicolas Roeg, Gulpilil stars as “Black boy”, who comes to the rescue of two Sydney children after their father tries to murder them.

“Walkabout. . . was the first time that many in Australia and internationally had seen an Aboriginal character portrayed on screen,” Mr Marshall said.

“His haunting, moving performance was equal parts devastating as it was electric.”

The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia calls the role an embodiment of “the stereotypical image of a ‘traditional’ Aboriginal” adding that “over the course of his career, he transformed this constructed identity into a more nuanced and accurate representation of Aboriginality.”

Gulpilil went on to cement his name in Australian cinema history for roles in Storm Boy and blockbuster Crocodile Dundee.

Despite his on screen success, Gupilil was still subjected to racism and discrimination , according to Mr Marshall, who added that he “lived with the pressures of the divide between his traditional lifestyle and his public profile.”

Gulpilil, who had a 50 year career on screen, received his final standing ovation during the March premiere of his final film, and a documentary about his life, ‘My Name is Gulpilil’.

It was the first production he was credited with a producer’s role and defied his cancer diagnosis.

“He was never expected to survive until the end of shooting, let along the premiere, and yet it was no surprise to anyone that he was front and centre on the opening night,” Mr Marshall said.

In 1987, Gulpilil became a Member of the Order of Australian and in 2001 was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal for his service to Australian society, through dance and acting, in the Queen’s New Year Honours List.

“He was a man who loved his land and his culture, and he was a man who took it to the world,” Mr Marshall said.

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