My Favourite Australian: David Bungal Mowaljarlai

The My Favourite Australian work was by Erin Coates in 2008 and was featured on the ABC.

David Bungal Mowaljarlai oam (c.1926–1997) was born at the Kunmunya Mission in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia. He was raised in both Ngarinyin and Christian traditions and trained as a Presbyterian lay preacher.

During WWII, Mowaljarlai assisted US forces to locate shot-down Japanese airmen on nearby islands and brought leprosy sufferers to the Derby leprosarium. Mowaljarlai worked on a Ngarinyinlanguage dictionary and the translation of the Bible into Ngarinyin.

Mowaljarlai was a long time activist for the return of Wanjina peoples to tribal lands and was awarded the Aboriginal of the Year prize in 1992. He received an Order of Australia (Merit) in 1995 and led the Native Title Directions Hearing where the Ngarinyin represented themselves.

Mowaljarlai was an artist and philosopher, guest lecturer, workshop facilitator and collaborated with travel and fiction writers, filmmakers and broadcasters. Mowaljarlai worked with Hannah Rachel Bell to develop Pattern Thinking/Triangle Thinking, Bush University and the Ngarinyin Education Initiative.

Erin describes her work as follows:

“With this video portrait I have sought the inextricable link between Mowaljarlai and his country. I have shown the land as animate, in flux and inscribed with the Ngarinyin system of knowledge. The portrait also conveys a sense of loss; when Mowaljarlai died, certain oral histories passed on too.” — Erin Coates

The short film is available on the artist’s website at:

An archive of the ABC’s website featuring this work on Mowaljarlai is also available.