Fame has proven to be a fickle beast for Ernie Dingo.
The 59-year-old indigenous star of both the small and big screens has ridden the roller-coaster of public exposure over the past 30 years. He was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1990 for service to the performing arts and has been designated an Australian National Living Treasure. From 1993 until 2009, Dingo was a regular in our lounge rooms as host of the popular lifestyle series The Great Outdoors.
But, like the rest of us, Dingo has made his share of mistakes.
In 2010, it was reported that two women claimed to have had affairs with Dingo, and then it was falsely claimed that Dingo and wife Sally were living in an open marriage. Bravely, Sally took the media on, telling news.com that she would stand by Ernie despite his affairs, and both Sally and Ernie rubbished claims of an open marriage.
Dingo’s next media stoush was an accusation that he slapped a primary school boy, leading to an assault charge that was investigated, dropped and the matter formally withdrawn.
But mud sticks, and this Australian National Living Treasure found himself dropped from his beloved The Great Outdoors and his acting career was at a standstill. This really was a time in the wilderness for Dingo.
But he was destined to return to the limelight, and did so in a notable role in the 2011 film musical Bran Nue Dae alongside Jessica Mauboy and Geoffrey Rush. Work in the Australian-Singaporean TV series Serangoon Road and the ABC’s Redfern Now followed in 2013.
Recently, Dingo has been a presenter in SBS’s DNA Nation series, where he underwent DNA tests that proved his people had been in the Murchison cattle station area, where he was born, for at least 40,000 years, roughly 1,600 generations.
Dingo told Fairfax that the news gave shape and form to something he and his people had always felt and believed, but could not prove scientifically—it was as if the science had verified the Dreaming.
In the series, Dingo ventured to Africa, where his classic humour crept in.
‘We could have sent a mob over there. It’s me being cheeky, but we are one of the oldest practising traditional cultures in the world. To me, the great thing was understanding the fact the origins are simple, we all come from an ancient source. I could be related to Betty who just had the big birthday!’ he chuckled.
Dingo claims to have performed the first modern ‘welcome to country’ ceremony, in which traditional owners welcome people to their land, at the 1976 Perth Fringe Festival.
Today, the ‘welcome to country’ is a valued part of many big events, and for Dingo it has the same religious and spiritual weight as attending church.
‘You can’t kill spirituality. You can’t take somebody’s soul. You can’t kill the presence, the inner sanctums of spirituality,’ he explained.
The importance of the inner spirit in us all is reflected in St Paul’s words to the Corinthians.
‘Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?’ (I Corinthians, chapter 3, verse 16).