Illuminating the fierce juxtaposition of tribal and urban life, ‘Walkabout To Hollywood’ offers a rare glimpse into the early life of an Australian icon

Illuminating the fierce juxtaposition of tribal and urban life, ‘Walkabout To Hollywood’ offers a rare glimpse into the early life of an Australian icon

Charlie (David Gulpilil) in a scene from Rolf de Heer's "Charlie's Country"
Words by Suzanne Boleyn

The film has made its DVD debut forty-two years after the film’s initial release.

David Gulpilil’s career has spanned almost fifty years and his contribution to the Australian art landscape in music, dance and film is phenomenal. As is his contribution to bridging the gap between white and Indigenous Australia. His presence on screen is singularly captivating and since his screen debut as a teenager in 1971’s Walkabout he has amassed at least forty acting roles in iconic Australian movies like Storm Boy (1976), Mad Dog Morgan (1976) and The Last Wave (1977). Walkabout to Hollywood takes us back to this moment in history when all four of these Australian films were showing in cinemas around America, and David Gulpilil was more recognised in Hollywood than he was in Australia.

Bill Leimbach’s 1980 BBC documentary traces the representation of Indigenous Australians in film, from derogatory depictions in the silent era to David Gulpilil’s ground breaking sensitivity and realistic portrayal of Indigenous characters in the seventies. He follows Gulpilil in his daily life and the unlikely journey from Arnhem land to Hollywood. Hollywood is worlds apart from David Gulpilil’s home in Arnhem land, but America embraces the young star. As he introduces Australian Indigenous culture to the world, Gulpilil embarks on a personal journey of exploring other cultures, exchanging meaningful cultural experiences with African American and First Nations people, including Buffy Sainte-Marie.

This cultural exchange is at the heart of the documentary, as is the fierce juxtaposition of tribal and urban life. Gulpilil states, “I’m not making films to be a star, but helping my people in this country to understand that I have a culture and I have a law taught to me by my forefathers”.

After this documentary, David Gulpilil would go on to feature in blockbuster films like, Crocodile Dundee (1986) and Australia (2008). As well a slew of acclaimed Australian films such as, Rabbit Proof Fence (2002), The Tracker (2002) and The Proposition (2005), ensuring his legacy as one of Australia’s most revered actors.

These films tell uniquely Australian stories, and while storytelling is integral to preserving Indigenous tradition, film is also a form of storytelling that can bring us together in sharing experiences. ‘Walkabout to Hollywood’ is part of Gulpilil’s story and the culture that he wanted to share with others. It is a small glimpse into this legacy, his early life and an archival time capsule featuring rare footage of the actor, his dancing and tribal culture.

This scarcely seen documentary has been rediscovered and released on DVD by Umbrella Entertainment who have previously restored and released several of David Gulpilil’s films on DVD and blu-ray, making them ripe for rediscovery.

Walk About to Hollywood is out now on DVD via Umbrella Entertainment.