Tuesday, 30 November 2021
Dalaithngu, Mr David, AM
David Dalaithngu faced the end with the same grace with which he carried himself through so much of his life. Contemplating the final stretch, he said:
It's like, I'm walking across the desert of country, until the time comes, for me.
And now the time has come. Australia has lost a great actor, dancer, painter and writer, a proud Yolngu man, a great Australian, a rare human being, a titan. From the moment the 15-year-old David first graced the screen in Walkabout, it was clear that Australia was witnessing the emergence of more than just another fresh face. At a time when non-Indigenous actors were still being cast in Indigenous roles, here he was, bringing his own culture so vividly and mesmerisingly alive on the screen. More than just a film role, it was a turning point. As the great Jack Thompson put it:
I think it was the first time I'd seen the Aboriginal culture presented on-screen as not only interesting, but dynamically attractive.
… the kind of secret weapon a filmmaker dreams of: a figure of coiled energy and casual, effortless grace. Someone who commands the screen simply by the act of allowing themselves to be photographed.
That his performance was no fluke of beginner's luck was made clear just a few years later when he became Fingerbone Bill in that great movie, Storm Boy. As his filmography grew, so he grew as a remarkable and powerful presence in our cultural life. David himself was succinct about his own talents, telling an interviewer:
I don't pretend. I don't have to go and act, I just jump in and stand there and the camera sees me.
He knew the bright lights of Hollywood, but he never stopped holding onto the glow of his own country. Arnhem Land was always waiting for him, and it rarely waited in vain. He held onto his roots because, ultimately, they are what nourished him. As for his role as a Yolgnu ambassador out in the world, he put it this way: 'Everything right, for my culture. I made it true.' The road wasn't always smooth for David—that was something he never shied away from—but he walked tall in two worlds with grace, truth and humour. Now he walks in another place.