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An undefeated hero in the land of racists

'David Gulpilil Two Worlds' by Craig Ruddy, Winner 2004 Archibald Prize (NSW Art Gallery)


TUMBY BAY - We in the West tend to judge people of other cultures in terms of our own values. We do this because we are conceited and assume that our values are superior to theirs.

This conceit was a fundamental ingredient in Australia’s past colonial experience and still informs how we relate to nations like China and India.

What we don’t like are foreign nations exerting on us their own unique values. We would much rather they imitate us.

We’re happy to entertain their cuisine, music and literature but not their world view.

David youth
David's acting career began when he was 17

At a personal level we judge people of other cultures in terms of how much they resemble us. If they talk and act like us, even if they don’t look like us, we judge them well, if not equally.

Among the prominent terms of judgement we use in our society are such things as wealth, prestige and dedication to a cause, including non-monetary ones.

Some people from other cultures eschew their own traditional values and adopt Western terms and values to judge themselves, thus perpetuating the idea of Western superiority.

Thankfully, there are people both within and outside our society who refuse to accept this idea of cultural superiority.

They are the brave people who ‘march to a different drummer’.

For a conquered people whose lands were invaded by Western imperialists, peacefully or otherwise, these brave people are crucially important.

They are the ones who swim against the tide to ensure their culture is not swamped; that it survives.

The late Aboriginal actor and dancer  David Dalaithngu was one of those people.

David ill
"I like to show my face to remember" - David Dalaithngu towards the end, 3,000 km from home in Arnhem Land

Despite all his perceived success he resolutely and uncompromisingly clung to his Yolngu origins and culture.

To do that he had to live in two worlds, his own and that of the Australian mainstream. He had to play the Western game and turn it to his advantage and that of his people.

It was a not an easy task and it took its toll on him.

He had to deal with all the fakery of the celebrity world and yet remain true to his cause.

David artAs a film star he made lots of money but in the Yolngu tradition he shared the bounty with his people and lived in a tin humpy or in the long grass outside Darwin.

He struggled with alcohol and spent time in gaol for hurting his wife.

One of his films, ‘Charlie’s Country’, made with his long-time friend and director Rolf de Heer in 2013, is semi-autobiographical and explores the theme of cultural survival in Arnhem Land.

In the film the main character, Charlie, has lung cancer from smoking. Ironically, this is what ultimately led to David’s early death.

Among the reviews of the film I found this gem:

Blacks“How sick I am of these people who had Australia for 65,000 years and did nothing with it, yet now the whitefellas are here the blackfellas can’t control their alcohol and tobacco consumption.

“They are lazy layabouts, their given homes are a human disgrace, dirty, uncared for.

“Its not their country any more they lost it on January 26th and will never get it back.

“The movie was good, the fact that the white cops like abo bashing has been that way since day one.

“To you abos, get an education, pull up your sleeves get a job and stop begging for handouts!”

DavidThis is the sort of stuff that people like David Dalaithngu are up against.

David was an uncompromising and undefeated hero of the Yolngu people and of Australia too.

We need to celebrate him.


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Arthur Williams

Here is another RIP this time for a woman who has worked for the Aboriginal people of Australia, including David of the Yolngu, and also for many other nations.

Some extracts, but worth reading at their various sources. She has a good website:

23 October 2021 - DR CATHY BOW RIP

'Shock at sudden passing of mobilising force in First Nations language revival'

AIATSIS joins the friends and colleagues of Dr Cathy Bow across Australia in shock and sadness following news that she passed away, suddenly, in Darwin on Saturday 23 October.

A linguist at the Northern Institute at Charles Darwin University, Cathy has been a mobilising force in support of language maintenance and revival in the Top End.

Awarded her PhD just a few months ago for her study of how digital technologies interact with First Nations language practices.

Cathy was project manager for the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages; she was the lead in a project to develop teaching and learning resources for endangered Yolŋu languages.

AIATSIS extends the greatest sympathy and respect to Cathy Bow’s family and to her contacts in communities and academia for the loss of her energy, friendship, knowledge and wisdom.

'Linguist's legacy reached 72 countries'

Friends and family have been devastated by the sudden and untimely death of linguist Dr Cathy Bow, who coached missionaries for language work and then worked closely with Aboriginal language owners in the Northern Territory.

Cathy trained a whole generation of men and women for language learning at St Andrew’s Hall.

Rebecca Elliott, who worked with Cathy annually for 18 years on the Maximum Impact Language Learning (MILL) course, said her legacy “lives on in 72 different countries that she trained workers to go to. Her legacy lives on as well in the MILL course".

Her boss at Charles Darwin University (CDU), Professor Michael Christie, said, “Cathy had worked with academics, educators, linguists, lawyers, archivists and computer programmers, all the while developing strong, and happy relationships with Aboriginal language owners.

In particular, she worked very closely with the Yolŋu lecturers and researchers at CDU and beyond on a variety of projects to do with endangered Yolŋu languages, translation work, and software development.

We also remember her work with the Bininj ladies from west Arnhem as they built and delivered together a Bininj-kunwok language program and worked with the language centre to develop resources. They have sent a separate message of condolence.

Two yarns I liked at same website: 'The Lost Girl' and 'Money don't mean nothing to me'. Jeffrey Lee could have become a millionaire. But he decided not to.

Arthur Williams

In 2019, while considered "gravely ill," Gulpilil was awarded the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Lifetime Achievement Award.

"Never forget me. While I am here, I will never forget you," he said while accepting the honour at the time.

Source: 'People' by Kelly Wynne, 29 November 2021

William Dunlop

Philip, Early yesterday I strongly suggested to a senior staffer in the Northern Territory political scene that nothing short of a state funeral would do.

So far have been met with silence.

There is, of course, no shortage of political spruikers up to ministerial level continuously on Aboriginal radio and television stations telling them what's good for them, and what they're gonna do for them.

It would be sad if it wasn't so bloody tragic.

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