Australian Icon David Dalaithngu Passes Away at 68

(We advise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers that the following article contains the name and images of a person who has died.)

An absolute titan of the Australian film industry. David Dalaithngu, has passed away at age 68. The legendary actor passed after a 4 year-long battle with lung cancer. His family has asked he be referred to as Dalaithngu and not his more commonly known name, and has granted permission to use his image.

Credit: ABC

Believed to have been born on the 1st of July 1953, David Dalaithngu was a man of the Yolngu people in the Mandhalpuyngu group. Their region covers eastern Arnhem Land, in Australian Northern Territory. Dalaithngu spent most of his childhood in the bush and received a traditional upbringing. He remained close to the land until his cancer diagnosis in 2017. As an actor, he first received cinematic fame as a key role in Nicolas Roeg’s 1971 film Walkabout.

Since then, his charisma and presence made him a highlight in other Australian and Hollywood films. These films range from 1977’s The Last Wave to Baz Luhrmann’s Australia. Furthermore, overseas he is most famous as Neville Bell in 1986s Crocodile Dundee and its sequel. His last role was in 2019’s film adaptation of Colin Thiele’s Storm Boy. Previously, he starred in the first attempt to bring the story to the screen.

Vale, David

Credit: ABC

David Dalaithngu was an accomplished musician, known for his didgeridoo mastery. His playing can be heard mixed on tracks by Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley. But, Dalaithngu is most famous for his dancing, even more than his music. A dedicated ceremonial dancer, David has represented traditional dance all across Australia and outside of it. Similarly, his intense skill in the art saw him win the Australia day Eisteddfod dance competition over 4 times.

Before Dalaithngu’s time on the screen, only the 1955 film Jedda had ever cast authentic Indigenous Australia actors. Before his time in the film industry was a legacy of racism and cultural appropriation. Tributes for David Dalaithgnu have poured in from historians, senators and other legends of Australian film.

Actor Hugh Jackman said, 

“His contribution to film is immeasurable. From his cheeky laugh, to that mischievous glint in his eye and effortless ease in front of the camera … his humanity is irreplaceable.”

Dalaithgnu’s last feature was a self-titled documentary of his life. The Documentary began filming after he was diagnosed with lung cancer. His contribution to the Australian film industry and the representation of his people is unmistakable. He will be missed.

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