DAVID DALAITHNGU to be honoured with AACTA Longford Lyell Award


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The legendary actor and artist will be honoured with with Australia’s top screen accolade for his outstanding contributions to Australian cinema.

The legendary and influential David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu AM will be honoured with this year’s AACTA Longford Lyell Award for his outstanding contributions to Australian cinema. AACTA began work on the tribute and award six months ago with Dalaithngu accepting the award a few weeks ago from South Australia as he was unable to travel. 

AACTA joins the rest of the film world in mourning the passing of one of our greatest talents, David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu AM, who sadly passed on Monday, 29 November 2021.

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He joins an elite group of Australian cinema luminaries, including Cate BlanchettGeorge MillerPaul Hogan and Jacki Weaver, who have received this impressive distinction.

The highest honour bestowed by the Australian industry, this AACTA Longford Lyell award acknowledges not just Dalaithngu’s incredible body of work but his role in creating more diverse, inclusive, and truthful Australian stories.

He will receive the award on the 50th anniversary of his trailblazing performance in the 1971 movie Walkabout.

Raised in Arnhem Land with little contact with white culture and immersed in his own Yolŋu traditions, Dalaithngu was just 15 years old when he caught the attention of British filmmaker Nicolas Roeg and catapulted onto the world stage.

Premiering just four years after Indigenous people were given Australian citizenship, Dalathingu’s charismatic performance in Walkabout is credited with changing the face of Australian cinema and global misconceptions about Indigenous culture. 

Walkabout was one of the first times that an Aboriginal person was seen in a leading role that wasn’t derogatory or degrading. The groundbreaking film also marked an end to non-Aboriginal actors playing Indigenous roles (often in black face).

Throughout his career Dalaithngu has continued to defy stereotypes with roles in classics such as Storm Boy (1976), The Last Wave (1977) and the top grossing Australian movie of all time Crocodile Dundee (1986).

David Dalaithngu died aged 68 (image - The Courier-Mail)
David Dalaithngu died aged 68 (image – The Courier-Mail)

It was Dalaithngu’s first lead role in The Tracker (2002) which garnered his first AFI Best Actor win, more than thirty years into his career.

In addition to his many iconic performances, Dalaithngu has consistently used his cultural knowledge, language and identity to enrich Indigenous Australian representation across all our screens. This was particularly evident in the 2006 masterpiece Ten Canoes , where he narrated the film –at his own suggestion – in the Yolŋu Matha language group. It was the first time that a feature film was shot entirely in Australian Indigenous languages. 

The semi-autobiographical Charlie’s Country, which Dalaithngu co-wrote and starred in, brought him more acclaim with the prestigious Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival Un Certain Regard section (an accolade never before received by an Australian), and his second Best Actor Award at the 2014 AACTAs.

His final film, My Name Is Gulpilil, in which he tells his own story, is nominated for the 2021 AACTA Best Documentary. 

On the 50th anniversary of his first screen appearance, the Academy is proud to honour a truly great Australian at the 2021 AACTA Award Ceremony presented by Foxtel Group. Introduced by Australian rapper, dancer, and hip hop artist Baker Boy, Dalaithngu will be recognised and celebrated by his peers for his remarkable contributions to the Australian screen industry. Viewers can watch this tribute during the ceremony broadcast on Channel 10, at 7.30pm, Wednesday December 8.  

Actor, writer, director and producer, Leah Purcell, said:

“As a little Aboriginal girl growing up in the Qld bush I remember seeing Uncle David in Storm Boy and being mesmerised by his movement, gestures and how he could tell a story through his eyes. Then as a teenager with dreams of acting myself I got to see those same traits in Crocodile Dundee. Fast forward 20 years and I got to work with him in The Proposition and saw it all up close and personal, he was incredible. He was an inspiration, a teacher, a Songman of the highest order and a man of deep culture. We will miss him.”

AACTA CEO Damian Trewhella said:

“David carried the legacy of his people into all his performances creating an authenticity that had never been seen widely before, and will never be forgotten.  

“By redefining how the world sees Indigenous Australians, he paved the way for the next generation to reject cultural stereotypes and express their own truths. All Australia owe him a debt.”

The family of Dalaithngu has advised that his name and image may be used in accordance with his wishes, following his passing.

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