David Gulpilil AM (b. 1953), actor and dancer, is a Yolngu man of the Mandalbingu language group and was born near Maningrida in Arnhem Land. Having been raised in the bush and educated in the customs of his people, Gulpilil was sixteen when British film director, Nicholas Roeg, saw him performing a traditional dance and cast him in the film, Walkabout, released in 1971. Subsequently, he appeared in Storm Boy (1976), Mad Dog Morgan (1976), The Last Wave (1977) and Crocodile Dundee (1986); portrayed Bennelong in the television series The Timeless Land (1980); and had roles in other Australian television productions including Homicide and Rush. His performance in The Tracker (2002) saw him named Best Actor at the Australian Film Institute Awards, the Inside Film Awards and the Film Critics’ Circle Awards. Gulpilil’s further film credits include Rabbit Proof Fence (2002), The Proposition (2005), Australia (2008) and the Yolngu-language Ten Canoes (2006), the idea for which Gulpilil developed with director Rolf de Heer and in which he starred alongside his son, Jamie. Some years ago, Gulpilil returned to his ancestral lands to subsist through crocodile hunting and fishing. The contradictions and difficulties of his existence between Yolngu and balanda (European) cultures were examined in his one- man autobiographical stage show, Gulpilil, conceived by Neil Armfield and Stephen Page, which premiered at the Adelaide Festival in 2004. Named a Member of the Order of Australia in 1987, in 2013 Gulpilil was awarded the Red Ochre Prize, Australia’s highest peer-assessed honour for Indigenous artists, at the National Indigenous Arts Awards. His most recent films are Satellite Boy (2012) and Charlie’s Country (2013)
The portrait of Gulpilil exemplifies the early work of photographer and filmmaker, Tracey Moffatt (b. 1960), and was exhibited in NADOC ’86, a landmark Sydney exhibition profiling works by contemporary Aboriginal artists. One of the first ten works acquired by the National Portrait Gallery, it is one of four portraits of Gulpilil in the Collection, The most recent of these – a 2006 photograph by George Fetting (b. 1964) – depicts Gulpilil at a waterhole in Kakadu, and was a finalist in the 2007 National Photographic Portrait Prize.


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