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An enduring icon

Actor and television presenter Ernie Dingo is a household name. The Yamatji man from the Maheleny region of WA has been the host of The Great Outdoors since 1993. He has also appeared in many TV series as well as movies including Heartland and Crocodile Dundee II. He has also had his fair share of controversy recently.

Deadly Sounds: Ernie Dingo or should I say Ernest Ashley Dingo – thanks for joining us on Deadly Sounds.

Ernie Dingo: What’s with the formalities sister? Come on!

DS: I just thought, Ernest.

ED: Yeah, there you go. I was quite earnest too.

DS: I bet you were very earnest when you were growing up over there in WA.

ED: No, no. I was a ratbag. I was surrounded by five sisters and when you’re surrounded by five sisters you learn to keep your mouth shut and stay away from everybody else and just keep it natural.

DS: And you just kept getting taller and taller.

ED: I had to. I had too many kicks up the bum.

DS: I just want to take you back a bit.

ED: Am I going to remember this? Were you there?

DS: Yes I was, so you’ll remember this.  No senior moments now. So back in the day when you were just getting taller and taller, this young Yamatji  man headed down to Perth and met  up with acclaimed actor and musician   Richard Walley, and you formed the  Middar Aboriginal Theatre Company.

ED: A lot had happened before Richard Walley. I was too light to play Aussie Rules so a school teacher by the name of Colin Jennings who came from down south tried to fit the kids into a sport they could excel in. I was good at Basketball. So I went to Perth to do an apprenticeship in signwriting and for a basketball scholarship.

DS: Since then you’ve done heaps of film and television, and in 1993, Ernie  Dingo started on The Great Outdoors.

ED: Oh, that thing.

DS: That thing that went on forever – that everyone thought was ‘Getaway’. Now, you have made a few controversial statements in your time.

ED: I’ve made a few – got a lot more too. The old way is that you’re innocent until proven guilty. But the media system is – they’ve got to sell their papers. And that’s where the thing went wrong. I’ve been working with kids all my life. It was just something that the media thought they could get some mileage out of.

DS: And of course, what Ernie’s talking about was alleged as he says, and it was formally withdrawn. But this went on for almost a year. Now that is a long time and I know that it affected your relationship and your family.

ED: Yep, but why cry over spilt milk? You can’t really allow the negatives. It’s more of a thing to get up and keep moving on and make something, keep getting on with life.

DS: And that’s a great positive, proactive way to go. I know in the States we often see some a movie star who really wants to have the red carpet moment to promote their next film and then we  see some horrible reference to them in  one of the terrible women’s magazines.

Most of us know it’s simply not true but there are people who read these things.

ED: Oh sensationalism is a lot of things, that’s the trouble. You have a look at our tellys today – it’s all about voyeurism.

DS: Cate Blanchett did her very first acting job in Heartland for ABC television and it was played in America and known as  Burned Bridge, and of course Ernie was her   lover in this series and she did swoon.

ED: She’s a good actor, ay?

DS: What was it like for you to be involved  with Bran Nue Dae at the second Black  Playwrights Conference when it was a  series of songs from Jimmy Chi and to  see it develop into a musical and then,  I think probably 15 years to 20 years  later, becomes a film? What a journey.

ED: 21 years later. Jimmy Chi was an unbelievable bloke. He was a visionary, long before his time. He had so much going on in his head, he had a lot of characters that were playing out these roles in his head. He was a great writer and it was a great story. Bran Nue Dae is the story of his life and where he was supposed to be, and its Jimmy Chi’s songs in Bran Nue Dae that are just great songs depicting Broome and what a young bloke had to go through in those times.

DS: And of course the role of Tadpole. There’s a Tadpole in every community.

ED: Bloody oath!

DS: So Ernie what’s coming up over the next few months for you?

ED: We’re working with carbon trading at the moment in Western Australia with the Yamatji people and we’re going to be sorting out a lot of stuff through the mid-west. I’m back up in the mid-west working with the Yamatji Nation, on the coast with them mad blokes over there. Casey’s over there, my cousin, working on the mighty Swan River.

DS: A lot of work is happening. And a lot of controversial work as well. Thank you so much Ernie because I know how busy you are. We really appreciate your time.


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