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Tudawali (1987)

PG-13 | | Biography, Drama, History | TV Movie 1987
Ernie Dingo delivers an outstanding portrayal of Robert Tudawali, the first Aboriginal film star, whose lead role in Jedda is iconic in Australian cinema. This film traces the life of Tudawali.


Steve Jodrell


Alan Seymour
1 nomination. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Ernie Dingo ... Robert Tudawali
Jedda Cole Jedda Cole ... Peggy Wilson
Peter Fisher Peter Fisher ... Harry Wilkins
Frank Wilson ... Charles Chauvel
Charles 'Bud' Tingwell ... Dr. Rayment (as Charles Tingwell)
Suzanne Peverill Suzanne Peverill ... Elsa Chauvel
Bill McCluskey Bill McCluskey ... Jack Everett
Michelle Torres Michelle Torres ... Kate Wilson
Shane Wynne Shane Wynne ... Jimmy Deakin
Chris Sampi Chris Sampi ... Willy
Franklyn Nannup Franklyn Nannup ... Denny Davies (as Frank Nannup)
Michael Carman Michael Carman ... Conroy
John Low John Low ... Detective
Colin McEwan Colin McEwan ... Harper (as Colin McEwen)
Syd Davis Syd Davis ... Magistrate


The film traces the life of Tudawali from the moment he's selected to play the lead in Jedda, right through until his premature death at around age 40 from severe burns. It also portrays the stark contrasts between Tudawali's home outside Darwin, and his life in Sydney, where he did most of his filming for movies and TV series. This powerful and important story also stars Charles 'Bud' Tingwell and serves as a vital document on Australian film history and Aboriginal culture. According to some reviewers, Tudawali is Ernie Dingo's finest acting performance. Tudawali is a powerful and important story: we're now over fifty years on since Jedda, and many attitudes toward Aboriginal people-particularly in the Northern Territory and Queensland-have not changed. Written by Paul Gerard Kennedy

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PG-13 | See all certifications »






Release Date:

1987 (Australia) See more »

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Black and White (some sequences)| Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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User Reviews

TV Gold
13 June 2010 | by nzstylejapanSee all my reviews

While first and foremost a chronicle of the sad life of Robert Tudawali, an aboriginal actor who shot to fame in the 50s, this film also documents the systematic oppression of aborigines under colonisation in Australia and the resulting decay of traditional aboriginal society. It's rare for such films to be made--the mirror that this film holds up to the white Australia of the 50s, 60s, and 70s is not something many would want to see--for this reason, too, the same ignorant attitudes are perpetuated, and the same smug and racist attitudes still pervade Australian society.

Despite the political bent, the film is still a deeply personal story, detailing Tudawili's long battle with alcohol abuse, and the deep conflicts he faced in trying to reconcile the depressed aboriginal settlement where he lived with his wife and child and "the white man's world". His initial fame after being cast in the feature film "Jedda" is immensely seductive, and the money, respect and freedoms he has access to (not least alcohol) at this time forge the experience as a 'golden time' that he constantly tries to emulate throughout the remainder of his life without success.

As the film progresses, we see the hope drain and a negative cycle of despair and alcoholism engulf him. The film portrays this with stark honesty. While detailing the background of institutional oppression of aborigines, it does not absolve the part that Tudawili plays in his own destruction with drinking and poor decision making. Positive role models and people that understand the plight of the aboriginal communities try to help him, albeit with varying degrees of patronising colonial paternalism. The final period in his life offers some redemption for Tudawili, but ultimately we are left with the sad story of a confused and beaten individual who has fallen through the gaps. This would be a sad story were it not for the fact that someone has told it, and through it we can all learn.

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