Thu. Jan 20th, 2022

One of Australia’s greatest actors has revealed what may be his biggest screen ever – the Eastern Bennelong Sails at the Sydney Opera House.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains images of someone who has died.

The family of the deceased actor has given permission to use his image.

One week since the death of David Gulpilil, whose family has now allowed the use of his famous surname, the nation continues to pay homage to the life of the movie star and films from the Northern Territory.

The Rabbit Proof Fence, Crocodile Dundee, Australia and the Storm Boy actor – a Yolngu man from the Mandhalpuyngu clan – died last week in regional South Australia after a long battle with lung cancer.

Projections of Gulpilil’s life in film, from his first role in the outback classic Walkabout to his last, as a sick cancer patient in the documentary I Am Gulpilil, have lit the sails of Sydney’s landmark as the local film industry prepares to provide him with his highest distinction.

Sydney Opera House Bennelong Sails illuminated to display images of a David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu.
David Gulpilil will be honored with the 2021 AACTA Longford Lyell Award.(Delivered by: Don Arnold / AACTA)

The late actor will be honored with the Longford Lyell Award at Wednesday night’s AACTA Awards – the Australian film industry’s equivalent of the Oscars – joining the famous ranks of former recipients Cate Blanchett, Jackie Weaver and his Crocodile Dundee co-star Paul Hogan .

“David carried the legacy of his people into all of his performances, creating an authenticity that had never been seen before and will never be forgotten,” said AACTA chief executive Damian Trewhella.

“By redefining how the world sees native Australians, he paved the way for the next generation to reject cultural stereotypes and express their own truths.

“The whole of Australia owes him a debt.”

Sydney Opera House Bennelong Sails illuminated to display images of a young David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu.
With the award, Gulpilil joins former recipients Cate Blanchett, Jackie Weaver and Paul Hogan.(Delivered by: Don Arnold / AACTA)

The award for his lifetime achievement will be presented at the ceremony by Yolngu rapper Baker Boy.

The Sydney Opera House tribute stone will be projected on the sails again for the occasion as his award will be presented posthumously.

With Yolngu actor to be hailed

Gulpilil’s son of lore and Yothu Yindi musician Witiyana Marika will take part in the celebration of his famous relative at the AACTA Awards.

Marika is also an actress who played a key role in the rough NT film High Ground from 2020 – a role that was originally cast for Gulpilil, who had been forced to withdraw from the filming due to his cancer diagnosis.

“I sing his name, I sing his property… the place he comes from, the land, the water,” said the elderly Rirratjiŋu clan elder.

“To heal the spirit. The powerful spirit of the land and his name.”

Marika said the industry would show its respect for “the boy who came out of the Marwuyu bush and became a big shining star”.

“He was the first shining light for me and for everyone else who believed in him and who saw him,” he said.

“And he made a big change, you know? He was a Yolngu Mandhalpuyngu role model.”

The state’s funeral plans are still unknown

The NT government says all plans for the actor to receive a state funeral remain in the air.

“We remain in discussions with the family about their wishes for Mr Dalaithngus [Gulpilil’s] funeral, “said a spokesman for the NT government.

“This will take time. We will provide an update as soon as we have one.”


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