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Australian Biography: Noel Tovey

26m Documentary, History, Indigenous 2006

Actor, choreographer and director Noel Tovey speaks about his complex sense of identity and the forces that shaped his extraordinary life.

Noel Tovey survived a childhood of poverty, neglect, sexual abuse and racial prejudice to become a leading light in the arts as an actor, choreographer, writer and theatre director. While in Pentridge Jail at the age of 17, he contemplated suicide, but the voices of his ancestors prevented him and helped turn his life around. Noel reinvented himself and built a career in theatre, radio and television before marrying, and sailing for England in 1960. There, he became principal dancer at Sadler’s Wells Opera and an acclaimed choreographer. He also opened an internationally renowned gallery with his new partner, Dave, before returning to Australia in 1991 and reconnecting with his Aboriginal heritage. In this moving interview, Noel speaks about his complex sense of identity and the forces and events that shaped his life.

A note on the definition of this title: The NFSA is pleased to be able to share this title on NFSA Player. This film is in SD as the digital preservation of original material and remastering to HD is part of the ongoing work of archives in a digital age. However, we didn’t want to wait to share this remarkable film with you. We thank you for your understanding.


Noel Tovey


Ron Freedman


Ron Freedman


Robin Hughes





Bonus Content

Introduction Noel Tovey


Curator of the Buwindja Collection, Gillian Moody shares what inspired her to select Australian Biography: Noel Tovey. She invites you to engage, explore, reflect on and Buwindja (remember) these exceptional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and stories. 

In Conversation


Gillian Moody, Curator of Buwindja, sits down with Pauline Clague, filmmaker and Associate Professor, Jumbunna, UTS, as they take a deep dive into the rich history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander storytelling in screen culture. They reflect on how the films in the Buwindja Collection showcase eras of change in filmmaking with fascinating insights into the dramatic shift from stories being told about First Nations peoples to Indigenous filmmakers telling their own stories. As Pauline powerfully states, it is now the case that ’Nothing about us without us’”. 

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The complete Buwindja Collection
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The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia acknowledges Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live and gives respect to their Elders both past and present. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, voices or names of deceased persons in photographs, film, audio recordings and/or text.