Dhakiyarr vs. the King

Director: Allan Collins, Tom Murray
Screenwriters: Tom Murray

Institute History

  • 2005 Sundance Film Festival


When the ancestor shark first swam up the Dhuruputji River in northeastern Australia, it called out the name of the Dhudi Djapu clan of the Yolngu people and established their laws and knowledge. But after Yolngu law and Western law clashed, the journey of the Yolngu people was broken; the pain of the ancestor shark went into the river, and the flow of knowledge stopped.

In 1933 Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda of the Yolngu people found his wife chained and being forcibly moved by a white policeman. After killing the policeman, Dhakiyarr was entangled in a highly publicized conviction and a historic overturn of sentence. But after being released, he never returned home. Now his descendants want to know what became of him. What matters most to Dhakiyarr's descendants is honoring their traditions through proper burial ceremonies to put Dhakiyarr to rest. Only then will their broken journey be restored, and their knowledge continue.

With an impressive directorial debut, filmmakers Tom Murray and Allan Collins offer Yolngu law and tradition as the framework of analysis of this mystery, dutifully presenting questions that have gone unanswered for three generations. With moments of stunning black and white cinematography contrasted with raw emotional intensity throughout, Yolngu law and Western law come face to face again in the search for absolution and forgiveness.

— Bird Runningwater

Screening Details


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