Inside Screen Worlds: David Gulpilil

“David first came to prominence as a dancer. People would call him the Black Nureyev. He was just magical to see and watch.”

This introduction from Aboriginal actor and activist Gary Foley invites us into the world of David Gulpilil, probably the most widely recognised Indigenous Australian actor of his generation.

David Gulpilil looking back

David Gulpilil looking back

Featured in ‘Voices’, a section of the Screen Worlds exhibition that celebrates the Australian contribution to the moving image, visitors can hear Gulpilil’s story in his own words.

As a teenager in North East Arnhem Land, Gulpilil was ‘discovered’ by director Nicolas Roeg, who was casting for Walkabout (1971), a film about two English children lost in the harsh Australian outback.

Roeg was looking for an Aboriginal boy who could perform traditional dances, throw a spear and play the didgeridoo. Gulpilil landed the role and the resulting film was an international success, propelling him onto the world stage.

David Gulpilil and Cate Blanchett

David Gulpilil and Cate Blanchett at the opening of Screen Worlds in 2009

Gulpilil’s subsequent films included Mad Dog Morgan with Dennis Hopper, Crocodile Dundee opposite Paul Hogan, Rolf de Heer’s The Tracker, Phillip Noyce’s Rabbit-Proof Fence and most recently, Baz Luhrmann’s Australia.

The Screen Worlds exhibit includes praise from some of the directors and actors who have worked with Gulpilil over the years. You can hear from rugged Aussie actor Jack Thompson, who calls Gulpilil “dynamic, attractive and sexy!” and director Rolf de Heer, who calls him “a tremendously intelligent actor with film-star quality”.

David Gulpilil and Rolf de Heer

David Gulpilil and Rolf de Heer at the Screen Worlds opening in 2009

Alongside stills and clips from many of the actor’s iconic films, the exhibit also features some of his awards, including his AFI Best Actor award for The Tracker and his IF (Inside Film) Living Legend award.

Phillip Noyce shares a lovely anecdote from the set of Rabbit-Proof Fence: Gulpilil, who played a tracker, said to him “I can find these kids,” to which Noyce replied, “You can’t catch these kids yet because we’ll have no story!”

But the final word belongs to Gary Foley: “Blackfellas love him. He was the first really positive and strong image of an Aboriginal on screen.”

– Mike Childs, ACMI Visitor Services Officer

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