Never-before-seen footage from 1979

BY BETH TAYLOR

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons.

For NAIDOC Week 2021, we are delighted to share this never-before-seen home movie footage of screen legend, dancer, painter and storyteller David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu AM and others performing in 1979.

Gulpilil performs traditional dances alongside dancer Dick Plummer, accompanied by prominant didjeridu player David Bylanadii (Blanasi) and songman Djoli 'Jolly Lajwonga' Laiwanga.

This captivating Super 8 film was shot by CSIRO scientist Dr Gavin Gillman at the official Australia Day reception at the Consul-General William Rowe's residence in Honolulu in 1979:

Fond memories of a special night

Filmmaker Rolf de Heer showed Gulpilil the footage recently and he was entranced, loving the chance to see himself as a young performer.

Dr Gillman, who was spending a sabbatical at the University of Hawaii at the time, remembers the night fondly.

He recalls, '[David] really was generous with his time that evening. One of my kids has the $1 note he signed as Fingerbone Bill' – his character in Storm Boy (Henri Safran, 1976).

As you can see by the abrupt end of the clip, Super 8 film cartridges were only 3-minutes long and unfortunately Gillman only had two reels that night. It's a tantalising ending that leaves us wanting more ... and indeed there was a second act that night.

'Waltzing Matilda'

A photograph taken in a low-light setting that is blown out in some areas and too dark in others. Three figures appear to be singing and dancing. One man is holding up the words to 'Waltzing Matilda' on a piece of paper. Another wears a hat with corks.

Left to right: Dr Gavin Gillman holding the words to 'Waltzing Matilda', David Gulpilil in makeshift cork hat and Lance Brooks. Courtesy Dr Gavin Gillman.

 

Dr Gillman recalls, 'My greatest regret was not getting any footage of events at the Newman Centre after the dancers had given their evening performance.

'David changed into his normal attire (see photo opposite) and we drew up the words to "Waltzing Matilda" on a large sheet of butchers paper in order to educate our international audience. We fashioned a makeshift cork hat and swag for David, and went on stage to belt out a rousing rendition of "Waltzing Matilda".'

It's incredible to think of that special night over 40 years ago and all of the stories that may lie in the bottom of someone's cupboard – or in this case, in their shed – awaiting discovery.

Many thanks to Dr Gillman for donating this significant footage to the NFSA.

Learn more and explore

You can immerse yourself in David Gulpilil's extraordinary story and cultural legacy in the online curated collection and the portrait written by Liz McNiven.

My Name is Gulpilil (Molly Reynolds, Australia, 2021) is a documentary about his life and career. Currently showing in cinemas around Australia, it screens at Arc Cinema at the NFSA on 9 July.

You can learn more about the Yolngu people at the Twelve Canoes and Still Our Country websites.

 

Main image: David Gulpilil in 3 Dances Gulpilil (1978) © NFSA Film Australia Collection