from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: my Name is Gulpilil …

March 20, 2021

The Adelaide Festival finished a week ago and our Fringe Festival finishes tomorrow, after 31 days of events.

Tickets to the main festival are not cheap often AU $40-150 a show. This year the main Festival shows have been more modest, with fewer international performers – for obvious reasons. However, in spite of this, the Fringe Festival has been nothing short of amazing. They had over 300 venues and 1,200 shows and the prices are very modest, around $20-30 a show. The shows are often short and the audience, with appropriate social distancing, very small. The Fringe Festival is not-for-profit and the performers are often young and suitably enthusiastic. These are not major productions but robust and entertaining and, because they do not require a big setup, they are often set in interesting venues such as the Botanic Gardens, small restaurants, the Museum and in the dedicated venue called the Garden of Unearthly Delights. The East End of Adelaide is the centre of the Fringe Festival and the streets and cafes located in that area are overflowing every night. The Fringe is very much a young person’s festival: risqué, experimental and challenging.

I’m embarrassed to say we did not attend any Fringe events. I am resolved that next year I will make an effort. I did attend another main Festival event: a single show at Festival Hall: My Name is Gulpilil. David Gulpilil, only 67 years old, is very frail with lung cancer. This was a retrospective of his life and his extraordinary film career.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Gulpilil

The show was a sell-out. David himself was helped on stage for a few minutes and was able to say a few words: that this was the story about his life. I have seen many of his films. David has a remarkable acting ability. Quite exceptional: the merest movement of his eyes or body is captivating. Charismatic.

But it is a sad story as well. In 1969, aged 15, he was plucked from his tribal family in Northern Australia as the filmakers wanted an Aboriginal boy who could dance, sing and hunt. The film was Walkabout and it became a sensation. This catapulted David out of his childhood home into the heady world of international stardom. The rest is history. He is perhaps the best-known Australian actor. His career has spanned 47 years and in every role he has been impressive. Sadly, his life has been blighted by alcohol and drugs. A lifetime struggle.

After David had left the stage, he spoke to us through the film and commented on his current situation. He can barely walk to his postbox from his front door.

During the opening credits we saw the old man walking away from us down a dirt road, flanked by empty fields. Beyond him, also walking away from us, on the other side of the road, was a single emu – a strange bird, stepping slowly and carefully with its huge feet, in no hurry. (BTW David can do a traditional emu dance – it’s on YouTube). Then David stopped, paused, turned around and walked back towards the camera: just like the emu, slowly without concern, content. David did not look back, but beyond him, the emu stopped, turned round and walked towards us. It was uncanny.

I believe we go to festivals for moments like that: unexpected, unexplainable and memorable.

‘A man who loved his land and his culture and took it to the world.’ – this is how he wants to be remembered.

David Gulpili  “We are all one blood. No matter where we are from, we are all one blood, the same“.

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