Review Blog

Oct 22 2019

Gulpilil by Derek Reilly

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MacMillan, 2019. ISBN: 9781760784973.
(Age: 16+) Highly recommended. Non-fiction. This is a beautiful book. It tells of the life of David Gulpilil, esteemed Aboriginal actor, dancer and performer, through conversations with Gulpilil himself, and through the shared memories of the many people who got to know him - people like Paul Hogan, Jack Thompson, Margaret Pomeranz, Natasha Wanganeen, and others who have wonderful stories to tell. Sadly, Gulpilil is now suffering from lung cancer and is not expected to live much longer; he is being cared for by close companion and experienced aged care nurse, Mary, in Murray Bridge, not too far from the treating Adelaide hospital, also near to the site of one of his earliest films Storm Boy, but very far from his Yolngu homelands in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, featured in his later films Ten canoes and Charlie's Country.
Did you know that Gulpilil is a first contact Aboriginal who didn't see a white man until he was eight? He is a living link with a culture that is 60,000 years old. Brought up in the traditional way of life, he first ventured into the 'white' world winning the Darwin Australia Day Eisteddfod dance competitions a number of times. Then his charismatic performance in the film Walkabout saw him set on a career in films. Actors and directors alike describe his intuitive ability to convey meaning with a look or a stance, a presence that just feeds the camera. He brought the face of Aboriginal Australia to film and is remembered for films ranging from Crocodile Dundee to Rabbit proof fence to The tracker. His contribution to Australian cinema was recognised in 2019 with the NAIDOC lifetime achievement award.
However, the difficulty of straddling two worlds has taken its toll, just as in earlier times it did for Bennelong, feted by Governor Philip in the late 18th century, and, the more recent, Namatjira, famous landscape artist of the 20th century. Gulpilil, like them, has battled with alcohol, and has given away everything he has to extended community.
Gulpilil's words on winning the NAIDOC award were 'Never forget me. While I am here, I will never forget you. I will still remember you, even though I am gone forever, I will still remember.' In that spirit, Reilly's book makes a fitting tribute to an Australian now regarded as a national treasure, a man of amazing charisma, much loved by friends and family and the wider Australian audience. This is the book he wanted written; it will help us to remember him.
Helen Eddy

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