Ernie Dingo

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Ernie Dingo’s family adoption twist

Ross McRae Access All Areas Editor, The West AustralianUpdated February 4, 2012, 3:50 am
Ernie Dingo s family adoption twistErnie Dingo’s family adoption twist

When Ernie and Sally Dingo adopted baby girl Wilara 18 years ago, all they were told by the authorities was that her mother had a one-night stand with an indigenous man in a Sydney pub.

When they found out last year who Wilara’s father was, they were amazed.

Award-winning TV identity Dingo has revealed that acclaimed indigenous actor David Ngoombujarra, who died in July, was Wilara’s probable birth father.

The revelation came as the Dingo family were filming a tell-all documentary for the ABC’s Family Confidential series, set to air on February 16.

When the Dingos discovered that Ngoombujarra was the likely birth father of their adopted daughter, it hit even closer to home because not only had he starred alongside Dingo in a number of film and TV productions but he was also his cousin.

Both Dingo and Ngoombujarra were born Yamatji, a name commonly used by Aboriginal people in the Murchison and Gascoyne regions.

“She (Wilara) is Yamatji. That is extraordinary. She is actually a relative of Ernie’s,” said Sally Dingo, who decided to adopt when she discovered she couldn’t have children.

Wilara also appeared shocked and surprised.

“Yeah, it is pretty nice to know that my birth dad is related to my adoptive dad. You probably don’t come across that often,” Wilara said.

Not long after the connection between Wilara Dingo and Ngoombujarra was made, the Australian Film Institute award-winner was found dead in Fremantle on July 17. A drug overdose was suspected.

“You think you have got for- ever and he was only 44 when he died,” Sally Dingo said.

“She (Wilara) has now just turned 18.”

She said it would have been just the right time for Wilara to spend time with her birth father.

Dingo said that if he had not had his family’s support during the past few difficult years, he might have ended up in a similar situation.

“I probably would have ended up the same way if I didn’t have mates like Sal,” he said.

After Ngoombujarra died, Dingo described him as “Ngoom” which means “a brilliant presence accompanied by that booming voice”.

“I loved him,” Dingo said.

“He was a very proud Yamajti man, the same as me, and was always in touch with his culture, wherever he was.

“Very sadly, he was lost between two cultures.”


Published on 13 May 2012
Ernie Dingo gave an intimate insight into country and family during his performance at the 2012 Message Sticks festival. He’s been an actor for over 30 years and spent 18 of those as the host of the travel program, The Great Outdoors. Here he talks about being an indigenous actor and why he’s now prepared to give up acting altogether.

[Video Prod. by Thea Dikeos]

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