Sorry Business: The Passing of David Dalaithngu AM

30 November, 2021

30 November 2021

Sorry Business: The Passing of Dalaithngu AM

The NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) and the NSW Land Rights Network mourn the passing of one of Australia’s greatest artists, David Dalaithngu overnight.

Mr Dalaithngu was from the Mandhalpuyngu clan of the Yolŋgu people, was raised in Arnhem Land and spent his final years on Ngarrindjeri country at Murray Bridge in South Australia.

He became one of the first Aboriginal people to be portrayed on the big screen in 1971 when he was cast in the film Walkabout. 

That film began an illustrious acting career spanning half a century which included both the original 1976 and 2019 releases of Storm Boy, The Last Wave, Crocodile Dundee, The Tracker, Rabbit-Proof Fence, Ten Canoes and Charlie’s Country. His last film is a documentary about his life, which was released earlier this year.

He was not only an actor, but a dancer, singer, painter and accomplished Yiḏaki player.

Dalaithngu was awarded the Member of the Order of Australia in 1987 for his services to the arts.

He received a NAIDOC Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019 for his “outstanding contribution to the representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people nationally and internationally”.

David Dalaithngu gave his people, Australia and the world many gifts as he followed his dreams. He leaves an important legacy of dedication to craft, creativity, hard work, persistence and resilience in the face of adversity.

The NSWALC pays respect to Dalaithngu and to his family and many friends at this very sad time.

Dalaithngu’s family has asked that his previous name is not used for the time being, in accordance with traditional Yolngu bereavement practices.

The image above is from a scene in the documentary about Dalaithngu’s life, released in 2021.


We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners of the lands where we work as well as across the lands we travel through. We also acknowledge our Elders past, present and emerging.

Artwork Credit: Craig Cromelin, from a painting he did titled, "4 favourite fishing holes". It is a snippet of his growing years on the Lachlan River, featuring yabby, turtle, fish and family.