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Mainstream Indigenous Media Interview of the Year?

Tony Eastley interviews a famous long grass man

It was an amazing story on this morning's AM program. Midst the law and order campaigns of the Northern Territory election, Tony Eastley found the great David Gulpilil, long grassing it....

For the full interview go to

In my search for long grassers I came across a most amazing man. By choice he was living rough with his wife in a bit of disused land in the heart of the capital.

What makes this story extraordinary is that the man happened to be the official 'Territorian of the Year'.

It's early morning, and I've come back to a place - a long grasser camp - in the heart of Darwin. It's perched on the edge of a hill, with trees on one side and a big concrete retaining wall that holds up the magistrates' car park on the other.

A narrow path leads in amongst the trees. There's maybe half a dozen people sitting around... the smouldering ashes of last night's fire is being stirred into life to boil the billy and cook some breakfast. An older woman is carefully putting tiny points of paint onto a small canvas.

These itinerants fear they'll be the target of any new regulations introduced by either the Labor Party or the CLP.

The face of the man sitting cross-legged at the back of the camp is familiar. He's a movie star, a stage actor, David Gulpilil, whose one-man show played in Adelaide, Brisbane, and Sydney last year.

(To David Gulpilil): Many people would find it curious that someone as famous as you, who's been as successful as you, would... you choose to camp out.

DAVID GULPILIL: Just camping in the long grass is like people who're homeless, like, they got no house or flat, you know.

TONY EASTLEY: But that's not you, is it? I mean, you could... but do you prefer to sleep under the stars?

DAVID GULPILIL: Yeah, I prefer to sleep under the stars. That's good, you know. But then again, when the wet season comes, so I have to make the shelter for it, you know?

TONY EASTLEY: Who are the people over there, and can you just describe the campsite to me.

DAVID GULPILIL: Well, yeah, the campsite here, myself and my wife, Miriam (phonetic), and that's my son there, and the (inaudible) family, they keep me company here.

And that's why I don't want to get hurt from some strangers, people come, or some of the things and all that, so, they're here, like, my brother in law and my aunty there, and my two brothers-in-law, and my granddaughter over there, and yeah...

TONY EASTLEY: So it's an extended family that you've got here with you?

DAVID GULPILIL: Yes. And they all adults, though. But no kid, they all adults.

TONY EASTLEY: And so you're not doing this for any political purpose, I mean, it's just David Gulpilil wanting to be close into the CBD, close into the city, is it?

DAVID GULPILIL: Yeah, closer to the city, I'm camping here, because I'm still looking around for the renting house, or renting flat. I have a job, but the money's coming too slow.

TONY EASTLEY: Now, you've got some paintings in front of you here. What are they for?

DAVID GULPILIL: Well this one here is for an art exhibition, this, I'm painting at the mall.

TONY EASTLEY: This is the mall in Darwin in central Darwin?

DAVID GULPILIL: Yeah, in Darwin. One, I did painting for administrator, yeah, administrator Ted Egan - one painting for him there now.

TONY EASTLEY: So while you're sitting here in your campsite you've been painting for the administrator?

DAVID GULPILIL: Yeah. I've been painting (inaudible) administrator, and he came up here... he came down and saw it.

TONY EASTLEY: Was he happy?

DAVID GULPILIL: Yeah, I think so (laughs).

TONY EASTLEY: And what would a painting like that sell for?

DAVID GULPILIL: Like $1,100. $1,500 or $1,000, something like that, and now I've got about two scripts coming up, and a music script coming up. And about three weeks time I will be introducing the band group from throughout Territory.

TONY EASTLEY: How do you think Indigenous people are being treated these days? Is it better, is it... are Indigenous people getting a better deal, do you think?

DAVID GULPILIL: (Inaudible) that walking around the street and they're sleeping in the long grass, sleeping like this... and I've been kicked out, maybe two three or four times from all different places, and they would complain about my noise.

TONY EASTLEY: And you've got a didgeridoo, you play the didgeridoo here as well?

DAVID GULPILIL: Yeah I got didgeridoo here. One here, and two, I've got didgeridoo. And I sit out here at night time, sing, because I haven't got a radio. And that's why I have to entertain myself with my own clapstick and didgeridoo.

TONY EASTLEY: Is there a need for official campsites or something better for where people want to stay in Darwin?

DAVID GULPILIL: Yeah, people need, you know, people like, people like me and the other people that sleeping in the long grass, and the people that need campsite, campsite that council can look after it, and then, part of the community. I haven't got a house. So then I have to move around and camp places like this here. And, well there's no stove, no nothing, I've got a billy boil there, and I am cooking it now, tea.

And I get meat and cook 'em down here. I go down there, down the beach, I get 'em sting ray, I cook them, come down here, and then they clean up... every morning I clean up these things and I put them in a trolley and we just chuck them down in all them rubbish, and stuff and all that.

TONY EASTLEY: David Gulpilil, and since I spoke to him, he's again been approached by police, and he's been moved along.

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