David Dalaithngu, legendary Indigenous Australian actor, dies aged 68

·Features and Health Editor
·3-min read

Content Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this story contains images of a person who has died.

For cultural reasons the actor’s family has requested he be referred to as David Dalaithngu.

Australian Indigenous actor David Dalaithngu, who shot to global fame when he starred alongside Paul Hogan in Crocodile Dundee, has died at the age of 68.

Dalaithngu's acting career spanned 50 years and included roles in a host of other iconic films such as Walkabout, The Last Wave, and Rabbit-Proof Fence.

Australian Indigenous actor David Dalaithngu
Australian Indigenous actor David Dalaithngu has died aged 68. Photo: AAP

The actor was first diagnosed with lung cancer in 2017. 

Born at Maningrida in Arnhem Land on July 1, 1953, Dalaithngu grew up among the Yolngu people, becoming a skilled tracker, hunter and ceremonial dancer. 

In his later years, Dalaithngu lived in Murray Bridge in South Australia.

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall paid tribute to the actor in a statement late on Monday.

"It is with deep sadness that I share with the people of South Australia the passing of an iconic, once-in-a-generation artist who shaped the history of Australian film and Aboriginal representation on screen – David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu (AM),” Mr Marshall said.

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“David Dalaithngu was from the Mandjalpingu clan of the Yolngu people, and was raised in the traditional ways in Arnhem land. In his later years he was a resident of Murray Bridge. He was a brother, son, friend, father, grandfather and husband.

“An actor, dancer, singer and painter, he was also one of the greatest artists Australia has ever seen.”

He starred in the 2013 highly acclaimed film Charlie's Country
He starred in the 2013 highly acclaimed film Charlie's Country. Photo: Bula'bula Arts Aboriginal/Screen Australia

It was his ability as a dancer that gave him his big break as a 16-year-old. It brought him to the notice of visiting British filmmaker Nicolas Roeg, who handed him a leading role in the 1971 movie Walkabout.

Dalaithngu received an Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards nomination for best supporting actor for his 2002 role in Rabbit-Proof Fence directed by Phillip Noyce.

That same year he also won the AACTA Award for best lead actor for his title role in The Tracker directed by Rolf de Heer.

The multi-talented performer was recognised in the 1987 Queen’s Birthday Honours List, awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia, and was also immortalised in an Archibald Prize-winning portrait in 2004.

Hugh Jackman, who starred alongside Dalaithngu in the Baz Luhrmann movie Australia, led the tributes online in mourning his loss.

Dalaithngu starred alongside hugh jackman and nicole kidman in Australia
Hugh Jackman led the online tributes for Dalaithngu. Photo: AAP

"I join all Australians, and the world over, in mourning the loss of David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu,” he posted on Instagram.

"One of the great privileges of my life was to work with David on the movie Australia.

"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."

Australian film critic Jason Di Rosso also paid tribute on Twitter, saying his work had helped to 'change the narrative' of Australia.

"Sad news that one of Australia's greatest actors David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu has died," he wrote.

"He possessed immense magnetism, skill & intelligence. In long shot or in close up he commanded the frame. As a storyteller, he also helped change the narrative of this country."

Additional reporting by AAP.

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