Leading Indigenous Australian actress Ningali Lawford-Wolf dies during run of Edinburgh International Festival show

A leading Indigenous Australian actress has died after taking ill during a critically-acclaimed run of an acclaimed Edinburgh International Festival production she was starring in.

By Brian Ferguson
Wednesday, 14th August 2019, 3:09 pm
Ningali Lawford-Wolf took ill mid-way through the run of The Secret River at the Edinburgh International Festival.
Ningali Lawford-Wolf took ill mid-way through the run of The Secret River at the Edinburgh International Festival.

Tributes are being paid to Ningali Lawford-Wolf, who had been treated in hospital in Edinburgh after taking ill while in the city to perform in The Secret River.

The 52-year-old actress, from Wangkatjungka, in Western Australia, was replaced by an understudy for the latter stages of the show's run after the festival was forced to cancel a number of performances of the multi award-winning production.

Lawford-Wolf, who won a Scotsman Fringe First Award with a one-woman show in 1995, was well known for her appearances in films like Rabbit-Proof Fence and Last Cab to Darwin.

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She had been performing the role of storyteller and narrator in the Sydney Theatre Company's adaptation of Kate Grenville's novel The Secret River for the last four years.

The play explored the events which unfold when a convict from London arrives in New South Wales, plants a crop and lays claims to the soil on which it goes, bringing him into conflict with a family whose existence depends on the land.

The company issued a joint statement with her family announcing her passing on Sunday.

The statement said: "Ningali was an incredibly talented performer as well as a wonderfully caring and thoughtful person. We’ve lost one of Australian theatre’s greatest treasures.

"Ningali was involved in the development of The Secret River at STC, narrating its return Sydney season and national tour in 2016, Adelaide Festival performances in 2018 and Edinburgh International Festival performances in 2019.

"Ningali was a wonderful mother to Jaden, Rosie, Alexander, William, and Florence, and loving grandmother to Zavia and Mia.

"Ningali’s family as well as the cast and crew of The Secret River are understandably very distressed by this news. All of us at STC offer our condolences to Ningali’s family and friends, and ask that their privacy is respected at this time."

A statement from the Edinburgh International Festival said: "It is with great sadness that we acknowledge the passing of actor Ningali Lawford-Wolf, in Edinburgh. Our thoughts are with her family, friends and community."

The Festival Theatre, where The Secret River was staged this month, said: "We are very sorry to hear of the passing of Ningali Lawford-Wolf. Our thoughts are with their family and friends at this difficult time. "