David Gulpilil, 2006
|Born||David Gulparil Gulpilil
1 July 1953
Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
|Spouse(s)||Robyn Djunginy (?-2003)
Miriam Ashley (2004-present)
David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu (Gurlpilil is linguistically correct though he is sometimes credited as David Gumpilil) is an Indigenous Australian traditional dancer and actor. His first starring role was in the film Walkabout (1971).
He is a Yolngu man of Mandhalpuyngu language group. As a young boy, Gulpilil was an accomplished hunter, tracker and ceremonial dancer. Unlike many Indigenous people of his generation, Gulpilil spent his childhood in the bush, outside the range of non-Aboriginal influences. There he received a traditional upbringing in the care of his family. He attended the school at Maningrida in Australia's North East Arnhem Land. When he came of age, Gulpilil was initiated into the Mandhalpuyngu tribal group. His skin group totemic animal is the eagle and his homeland is Marwuyu. After appearing in his first film, he added English to several tribal languages in which he was already fluent.
In 1969, Gulpilil's extraordinary skill as a tribal dancer caught the attention of British filmmaker Nicolas Roeg, who had come to Maningrida scouting locations for a forthcoming film. Roeg promptly cast the sixteen-year-old unknown to play a principal role in his internationally acclaimed motion picture Walkabout, released in 1971. Gulpilil's on-screen charisma, combined with his exceptional acting and dancing skills, was such that he became an instant national and international celebrity. He travelled to distant lands, mingled with famous people and was presented to heads of state. During these travels to promote the film, he met and was impressed with John Lennon, Bob Marley, Muhammad Ali and Bruce Lee.
Life in the arts
After his high profile performance in Walkabout, Gulpilil went on to appear in many more films and television productions. He played a lead role in the commercially successful and critically acclaimed Storm Boy (1976). He "dominated" the film The Last Wave (1977), with his performance as tribal Aboriginal man Chris Lee.
Perhaps the most renowned traditional dancer in his country, he has organised troupes of dancers and musicians and has performed at festivals throughout Australia, including the prestigious Darwin Australia Day Eisteddfod dance competition, which he won four times.
In addition to his career in dance, music, film and television, Gulpilil is also an acclaimed storyteller. He has written the text for two volumes of children's stories based on Yolngu beliefs. These books also feature photographs and drawings by Australian artists and convey Gulpilil's reverence for the landscape, people and traditional culture of his homeland. Gulpilil's latest artistic triumph is his appearance in an autobiographical stage production in March 2004 at the Adelaide Festival of Arts 2004.
Offensive weapons charges
On 9 July 2006, Gulpilil was staying at the home of Vaughan Williams in Darwin, when an argument started over his drinking (Williams' home had a "no alcohol policy"). Williams asked Gulpilil, his wife and their friend (referred to as "JJ") to leave his home. During the argument, Williams and his friend allegedly armed themselves with a totem pole and a garden hoe. In response, Gulpilil produced a machete.
Nobody was hurt in the altercation, however Gulpilil was charged with carrying an offensive weapon. On 10 January 2007, he was found not guilty, as the machete was deemed to be for cultural use. The magistrate found:
The defendant is an artist and a carver. He used the machete to carve didgeridoos, totem poles and strip stringy bark for paintings, [...] There is also evidence he used it to help him build shelters while out bush, like he had done shortly before arriving in Darwin.—Magistrate Tanya Fong Lim, 
Domestic violence allegations
On 30 March 2007, a Darwin magistrate imposed a 12-month domestic violence order against Gulpilil over an incident which took place against his wife on 28 December 2006. Gulpilil has been ordered not to "assault or threaten to assault Miriam Ashley directly or indirectly", and to stay away from her while drinking.
In December 2010, Gulpilil was charged with aggravated assault against Ashley, with the court hearing that he had thrown a broom at her, fracturing her arm. In September 2011, he was found guilty and sentenced to twelve months in prison.
At a conference in Adelaide in the summer of 2000, Gulpilil performed traditional dances and shared his recovery story with hundreds of indigenous young people. He continues to provide mentorship to them, while lending his support to social and political causes such as the pursuit of tribal land claims for indigenous people. He joins other Australian artists in calling for government recognition of, and compensation for, the suffering of the "Stolen Generation" - children of mixed European and Aboriginal parentage who were forcibly removed from their indigenous families and placed in mission schools or with white adoptive parents far from their kin and homelands.
A documentary about his life, Gulpilil: One Red Blood, was aired on Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 2003. The title comes from a quote by Gulpilil: “We are all one blood. No matter where we are from, we are all one blood, the same”.
Gulpilil has been a major creative influence throughout his life in both dance and film. He initiated and narrated his recent film, Ten Canoes which won a Special Jury Prize at the 2006 Cannes Festival. The prize-winning, low-budget film, based on 1,000-year-old traditional story of misplaced love and revenge, features non-professional indigenous actors speaking their local language. Gulpilil collaborated with the director, Rolf de Heer, urging him to make the film, and although he ultimately withdrew from a central role in the project for "complex reasons," Gulpilil also provided the voice of the storyteller for the film. De Heer directed Gulpilil in another film, The Tracker (2002).
In 2007, he starred in Richard Friar's hour-long independent documentary, Think About It! which was focussed on indigenous rights and the anti-war movement and included commentary from former Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, former Greens leader, Bob Brown, and Guantanamo Bay detainee, David Hicks.
He has returned to his country to live as a respected Elder.
- 1971 – Walkabout
- 1976 – Mad Dog Morgan
- 1976 – Storm Boy, Fingerbone Bill
- 1977 – The Last Wave, Chris Lee
- 1983 – The Right Stuff
- 1986 – Crocodile Dundee, Neville Bell
- 1987 – Dark Age
- 2001 – Serenades
- 2002 – Rabbit-Proof Fence, Moodoo
- 2002 – The Tracker
- 2005 – The Proposition
- 2006 – Ten Canoes
- 2008 – Australia, King George
- 2012 - Satellite Boy
- 2013 - Charlie's Country
- 1972/3 – Boney
- 1974 – Homicide
- 1976 – Rush
- 1977 – The Outsiders
- 1980 – The Timeless Land, Bennelong
- 1980 – Young Ramsay
- 1989 – Naked Under Capricorn, Activity
- [according to credits of Ten Canoes]
- Sunday Life
- National Archives of Australia 2008 http://.naa.gov.au/print_display.aspx?ObjectType=SingleRecordPrint&irecordid=1044.
- Pike, Andrew and Cooper, Ross (1998). Australian Film 1900-1977: A guide to feature film production. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
- Gulpilil had right to carry machete, court told. 08/01/2007. ABC News Online
- I grabbed machete in fear: Gulpilil - National - smh.com.au
- Gulpilil machete accepted to be for 'cultural use' | NEWS.com.au
- Domestic violence order on Gulpilil - National - theage.com.au
- Gulpilil jailed for assaulting wife, ABC News, 22 September 2011.
- Joining the dots along the chain of war by Steve Burrell (Sydney Morning Herald, 14 July 2007)
- Gulpilil says give peace a chance (Northern Rivers Echo, 16 February 2007)