David Dalaithngu was 'a gift to Australia'

David Dalaithngu's acting career spanned 50 years and included multiple hit movies.
David Dalaithngu's acting career spanned 50 years and included multiple hit movies.

Actor David Dalaithngu has been remembered as an inspiration to the nation and a humble giant of the screen who took Aboriginal culture to the world.

Dalaithngu died at his home in Murray Bridge, South Australia on Monday aged 68 after a long battle with lung cancer.

The legendary actor's career spanned 50 years before he was diagnosed with the disease in 2017.

He appeared in iconic films such as Walkabout, The Last Wave, Crocodile Dundee, Storm Boy, The Tracker and Rabbit-Proof Fence.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told parliament Dalaithngu was a formidable force in Australian culture.

He said he was a "mirror to the soul" of the nation and had reflected 60,000 years of Indigenous history back to the people.

"He was a gift from our country and a gift to our country," he said.

"In lauding him we should not rob him of his joy, his cheekiness and the ease in which he carried himself ... with elegance, grace, dignity, and beauty."

Actor Hugh Jackman, who starred alongside Dalaithngu in the Baz Luhrmann film Australia, led tributes from the entertainment world.

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

He said one of the greatest privileges of his life had been working with Dalaithngu, who started his career when Jackman was a toddler.

"From his cheeky laugh, to that mischievous glint in his eye and effortless ease in front of the camera ... His humanity is irreplaceable," Jackman said.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said Dalaithngu was a great Australian, a rare human and a titan.

"He knew the bright lights of Hollywood, but he never stopped holding onto the glow of his own country," he said.

"He walked tall in two worlds with grace, truth and humour. Now he walks in another place".

Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt described Dalaithngu as a giant of the screen and the most recognisable Aboriginal man in the world.

He said the actor was a "legend of the Yolngu people" and he had loved all his films.

"I was struck by his modesty, his humility and that same, shrewd sense of humour he took to the screen," he said of meeting Dalaithngu.

Mr Wyatt said Dalaithngu had made Aboriginal culture mainstream.

"His contribution to raising the profile of our people and Australia cannot be overstated," he said.

Olympian Cathy Freeman posted on Twitter: "Thank you for the inspiration."

Thousands of other fans and admirers took to social media platforms to farewell the actor, known as "uncle" to many Indigenous people.

"So very sad to hear the passing of our Uncle and I say our uncle coz to every Aboriginal kid in the 80s, 90's that's how we felt," one posted on Instagram.

His face would literally light up the screen his voice would make you escape from the reality of racism in our lives, he was our Denzil Washington, our Black Panther he was & still is our Hero."

Born at Maningrida in Arnhem Land on July 1, 1953, Dalaithngu grew up among the Mandjalpingu clan of the Yolngu people.

Far from the white man's world, he became a skilled tracker, hunter and ceremonial dancer under the tutelage of his elders.

Dalaithngu got his big break as a 16-year-old in 1971 when visiting British filmmaker Nicolas Roeg tapped him for the leading role in the movie Walkabout.

He went on to act in more than 30 movies and television productions and was recognised in the 1987 Queen's Birthday Honours List and received the Medal of the Order of Australia.

Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said Dalaithngu was and remains the face of Australia.

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall described him as one of the greatest artists Australia has ever seen.

In his final days, Dalaithngu was cared for by his family and friend Mary Hood.

The actor's family has requested he be referred to as David Dalaithngu following his death. Permission has been granted to publish images from his career.

Australian Associated Press