Robert Tudawali

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Robert Tudawali
Robert Tudawali at Darwin's Bagot Reserve 1960.jpg
Tudawali at the Bagot Native Settlement in 1960
Born Robert Tudawali
Melville Island, Northern Territory
Died July 1967 (aged 37–38)
Darwin, Northern Territory
Cause of death Severe burns and tuberculosis[1]
Resting place Darwin cemetery

Robert Tudawali (1929 – 26 July 1967) also known as Bobby Wilson was an Australian actor and indigenous activist, born and raised on Melville Island in the Northern Territory to Tiwi parents.[1]


Although he had only a rudimentary education in Kahlin, at the Native Affairs Branch, Tudawali attained a rich English vocabulary. He was the leading Australian rules footballer as a youth, and he alternated several times between Aboriginal and white society. Tudawali used the name Bobby Wilson in Darwin when he travelled there by canoe in the late 1930s, which was the surname of his father's employer. He was an orderly with the Royal Australian Air Force and worked briefly in an army store and mechanical workshop, also serving as a waiter before becoming an actor.

He became the first Aboriginal film star as a result of playing the lead role, Marbuck, in the 1955 Australian film Jedda. Tudawali played the role of Emu Foot in the 1958 movie Dust in the Sun, a mystery film adapted from the novel Justin Bayard by Jon Cleary and produced by the team of Lee Robinson and Chips Rafferty. Under the name Bobby Wilson, he took part in various episodes of the 1960 TV series Whiplash. Tudawali also featured in the ABC television play, Burst of Summer, in 1961.

Tudawali served as Vice-President of the Northern Territory Council for Aboriginal Rights in 1966 and, working with trade unionist Brian Manning and author Frank Hardy, fought to highlight the poor wages and conditions of Aboriginal stockmen in the Northern Territory, which culminated in the Wave Hill walk off in 1966.[2] Tudawali had organised to give a series of talks to unionists throughout Australia in support of the stockmen when the Northern Territory administration banned any travel by Tudawali due to the tuberculosis he was suffering at the time.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Tudawali was married to Peggy Wogait in 1948 and they lived at the Bagot Native Settlement, later he married a women named Nancy. Tudawali died of tuberculosis and severe burns at Darwin Hospital on 26 July 1967 following an incident on Bagot community, Darwin, when an argument broke out when he refused to offer his 11-year-old daughter Christine for marriage, his funeral took place at Nightcliffe, Northern Territory[1][3]

Feature Film[edit]

In 1987, Steve Jodrell directed Tudawali, a made for television docu-drama about Robert Tudawali, with Ernie Dingo in the title role.[4][5]


  1. ^ a b c Forrest, Peter. "Tudawali, Robert (1929–1967)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. Retrieved 12 August 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Snowdon, W., "“Sometime we bin get extra salt on the beef.” Heroes of the Northern Territory", Crikey, Accessed 18 August 2012.
  3. ^ "Tudawali funeral". The Canberra Times. 41, (11,765). Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 12 August 1967. p. 7. Retrieved 30 May 2016 – via National Library of Australia. 
  4. ^ Tudawali Archived 9 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine., Australian feature films shot in or set in or first shown in or partly financed by Western Australia.
  5. ^ Ed. Scott Murray, Australia on the Small Screen 1970-1995, Oxford Uni Press, 1996 p156

External links[edit]