WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following may contain images, story and voices of deceased, by and about persons. Discretion advised.

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14 July 2021 // Balang Lewis

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Balang Tom E. Lewis (25 August 1958 – 10 May 2018) was an actor and musician  from the Murrungun people.He was born and grew up in  NgukurrArnhem LandNorthern Territory and worked as a bricklayer and stockman before moving into theatre.

In 1978 he played the title role in the iconic  Fred Schepisi film The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, after being discovered by Schepisi's wife at an airport.

He spent many years working in the Melbourne theatre scene, having worked with PlayboxMelbourne Theatre CompanyMelbourne Workers TheatreArena and Handspan Theatres. With Handspan, he devised the internationally successful Lift Em Up Socks, a semi-autobiographical multi-media work.

 

In 2006, he played Othello in the Darwin Theatre Company's production of Shakespeare's classic and in 2013, Tom played "an indigenous version of King Lear" in the Darwin Theatre Company production The Shadow King.

Lewis was also a musician and played the didgeridu, flute, clarinet and guitar. Past musical projects included the band Circle of Breathing. In the 1990s he toured in acclaimed jazz duo, Lewis & Young through Europe, Asia and Australia. He has played with Jane Rutter, Eve Duncan, Uli Klein and composer George Dreyfus.

 

In 2005, he released the album Sunshine After Rain through label Skinnyfish music. In 2013, he released Beneath the Sun, also through the Skinnyfish label.

 

Balang co-wrote a short documentary film, Yellow Fella, about his experience of coming from a mixed race heritage, for which he was awarded the 2005 Bob Maza Fellowship by the Australian Film Commission. Directed by Ivan Sen, it was selected to screen at the Cannes Film Festival, the first Australian Indigenous documentary ever chosen for Official Selection.

He worked on Dust Echoes, an Indigenous animated website of Dreamtime stories produced by the ABC. Dust Echoes is important he says, "to preserve our culture by using the whitefella technology to embrace our stories. You see the 'propaganda' is bigger than our stories in the dust and so we now are raising those stories from the dust and share it, so people can more understand our culture and bring them to our fireplace." He played one of the leading roles in the psychological thriller Red Hill

In 2000 he was chosen to run with the Olympic torch in Melbourne before moving to Beswick, South Arnhem Land in 2001 where he headed up the Djilpin Arts Aboriginal Corporation and hosted the  annual "Walking with the Spirits" festival.

His last role was in Boori Monty Pryor's 4-part miniseries Wrong Kind of Black. He died of a heart attack on 10 May 2018 in the Northern Territory town of Katherine.

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