Dalaithngu was a skilled tracker, hunter, and ceremonial dancer. He started his movie career at the age of 16.
Indigenous actor David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu has passed away at the age of 68. The Yolngu actor was a member of the Mandjalpingu clan in Australia and made a name for himself as a movie star. Dalaithngu who started out in films at the age of 16 spent his final years in Murray Bridge, South Australia. In his last message to the public, he thanked them for watching his work and said he'd never forget the love they had for him. "Thank you very much for watching me,' he said via a video after receiving a lifetime achievement award from NAIDOC, the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee in 2019, reported The Daily Mail. "Never forget me. While I am here, I will never forget you. I will still remember you, even though I am gone forever, I will still remember," said the actor. He couldn't make it to the ceremony as he was suffering from lung cancer. His daughters Phoebe and MaKia received the award on his behalf in Canberra. "One day soon he will go to the Dreamtime," said an emotional Phoebe Marson.
Since his debut as the lead in British filmmaker Nicolas Roeg's film 'Walkabout' in 1971, Dalaithngu has been the person who defined the presence of Indigenous Australians in film. David Dalaithngu was born on July 1, 1953, in Arnhem Land, and grew up among the Yolngu people. He was a skilled tracker, hunter and ceremonial dancer. His dancing ability caught the attention of Roeg who eventually cast him as the lead in his film. The film became a phenomenal success and Dalaithngu traveled the world to promote the film and met the likes on John Lennon and Bob Marley while on tour. He continued acting in films including some blockbusters. Some of his popular works include 'Storm Boy' (1976), Last Wave (1977), Crocodile Dundee (1986), and Rabbit-Proof Fence and Tracker (2002).
Dalaithngu considered 'Storm Boy' to be his favorite movie but considered 'The Tracker' to be his 'best film.' After a hiatus from the movie industry, he returned to 'The Tracker,' which captured the relationship between white and Indigenous men in the early 1900s. He starred in a string of arthouse films capturing the lives of the indigenous population in Australia. In 2006, he starred in Ten canoes, which captured Aboriginal culture before white settlement. In 2008, he starred in Baz Luhrmann's Australia in 2008 and Charlie's county in 2013, centered around the death of an indigenous man. He won a special jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival for best actor in innovative filmmaking for Ten Canoes, a low-budget picture. His acting was lauded with Variety describing him as "an actor capable of mischievousness and gravitas, often within the same shot." Screen International described his performance as 'a mesmeric portrait.' He was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 1987 and was awarded the Centenary Medal in 2001.
Dalaithngu also had issues with alcohol and depression, even ending up in jail two times. He lost his license in 2005 for a year. A magistrate imposed a 12-month domestic violence order on him, forbidding him from assaulting or threatening his second wife Miriam Ashley. He was ordered to stay away from her while drinking. He was sentenced to 12 months in prison, suspended after five months, after he was found guilty of the charge of aggravated assault against his wife. He had fractured his wife's arm after throwing a broom at her at a house in Darwin. He had also served a few weeks in prison for alcohol-related traffic offenses.
He returned to his people as a tribal leader and mentored his sons Jida and Jamie, among other youth. He pursued land claims and called for reparations over Aboriginal children forcibly being removed from their families.