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Ningali Josie Lawford[1] (1967 – 11 August 2019) was an Australian actress known for her roles in the films Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002), Bran Nue Dae (2009), and Last Cab to Darwin (2015), for which she was nominated for the AACTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.[2][3]

Ningali Lawford
Ningali Josie Lawford

1967 (1967)
Died (aged 52)
Edinburgh, Scotland
Other namesJosie Ningali Lawford, Ningali Lawford-Wolf
Years active1990–2019

Early lifeEdit

Lawford was born in 1967 on Christmas Creek Station, a cattle station in Wangkatjungka, near Fitzroy Crossing in Western Australia,[4][5] where her father, a stockman, and mother, a domestic, worked.[6][7] She was a member of the Walmadjari (Tjiwaling) people.[8][9] After attending Kewdale Senior High School in Perth, she spent a year in Anchorage, Alaska, on an American Field Scholarship.[6][10][11] Lawford trained in dance at the Aboriginal Islander Dance Theatre in Sydney.[12]


Lawford made her acting debut in the musical Bran Nue Dae,[1] which premiered in Perth in 1990. She later appeared in the 2009 film version.

In 1994, Lawford premiered her one-woman show, Ningali, in Perth. It was co-written by stage directors Robyn Archer and Angela Chaplin, whom she had met the previous year.[1] The show toured internationally and won the Fringe First Award for Best New Production at the 1995 Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the 1996 Green Room Award for Best Actress in a One Woman Show.[13][14] Other theatre roles included Aliwa for Company B Belvoir (2001), Uncle Vanya (2005) and Jandamarra (2008) both for Black Swan Theatre Company.

In 2000, the satirical comedy Black and Tran premiered at the Melbourne Comedy Festival. It was a collaboration between Lawford and Vietnamese comedian Hung Le.[15] It addressed "the issue of racial discrimination by ridiculing the stereotypes of Aboriginal and Vietnamese cultures".[16]

Lawford played Maude, the mother of protagonist Molly, in the 2002 film Rabbit-Proof Fence.[17]

In 2015, Lawford played the role of Polly in the film Last Cab to Darwin, for which she received an AACTA Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role.[12]

In 2017, Lawford voiced the character of Nanna on the National Indigenous Television (NITV) animated series Little J & Big Cuz, which features Indigenous Australian characters.[18]

Lawford was involved in the development of The Secret River at the Sydney Theatre Company, narrating its return Sydney season and national tour in 2016, Adelaide Festival performances in 2018 and Edinburgh Festival performances in 2019.[19] She died of complications following a severe asthma attack while in Edinburgh, Scotland, during the tour.[20][5][21] She was 52.[22]

Personal lifeEdit

Lawford had five children and two grandchildren.[23][22][1][13]



Year Title Role Refs
2002 Rabbit-Proof Fence Maude [5]
2009 Bran Nue Dae Theresa Johnson [1][5]
2015 Last Cab to Darwin Polly [5][12]


Year Title Role Notes Refs
1994–1996 Ningali Deckchair Theatre< [5]
2001 Aliwa Company B Belvoir [5]
2005 Uncle Vanya Black Swan Theatre [5]
2008 Jandamarra Black Swan Theatre and Perth International Arts Festival [5]
2015–2017 The Secret River Dhirrumbin Sydney Theatre Company national tour [5]


Year Title Role Notes Refs
2007–2010 The Circuit Louise [24]
2009 3 Acts of Murder Emily Dooley Television movie [24]
2017 Little J & Big Cuz Nanna Voice, 13 episodes [25]
2018 Mystery Road Dot [5]

Awards and nominationsEdit

She won awards for her one-woman theatre show Ningali, Aliwa, Uncle Vanya and Jandamarra.[5]

Year Association Category Nominated work Result Refs
1996 Green Room Awards Best Actress in a One Woman Show Ningali Won [14]
2015 AACTA Awards Best Actress in a Leading Role Last Cab to Darwin Nominated [12]


  1. ^ a b c d e Wheatley, Jane (19 September 1997). "To Sir, with love". The Sydney Morning Herald. pp. 3435 – via
  2. ^ Maddox, Garry (8 December 2015). "AACTA Awards shape as a night for both Mad Max and The Dressmaker". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 6 February 2016.
  3. ^ Lauder, Jo. "Indigenous actor refused four taxis in Sydney". ABC. Retrieved 6 February 2016.
  4. ^ "What Makes Us Funny Make Us Aussie". Big Ideas. 2 August 2011. Archived from the original on 22 August 2011. Retrieved 6 February 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Collins, Ben; Bol, Michaela (14 August 2019). "Australian actor Ningali Lawford-Wolf dies on tour". ABC News. Retrieved 14 August 2019.
  6. ^ a b Bayley, Clare (17 August 1995). "Life at home is the inspiration for Aboriginal performance artist Ningali. Nothing unusual in that. Except her immediate family is 300 strong. She talks to Clare Bayley". The Independent. Retrieved 11 February 2016.
  7. ^ Jopson, Debra (6 July 2002). "Rockets on the soles of Ningali's shoes". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 11 February 2016.
  8. ^ Stephenson, Peta (14 August 2007). "The Outsiders Within: Telling Australia's Indigenous-Asian Story". UNSW Press – via Google Books.
  9. ^ "VisionMaker's Got You Covered for Back to School".
  10. ^ Reinelt, Janelle G.; Roach, Joseph R. (2007). Critical Theory and Performance. University of Michigan Press. pp. 73–75. ISBN 0-472-06886-5. Retrieved 11 February 2016.
  11. ^ Mulvey, Paul (1 October 1995). "Tales from under a tree". The Canberra Times. p. 20. Retrieved 24 April 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  12. ^ a b c d Bodey, Michael (8 August 2015). "Last Cab to Darwin lured Ningali Lawford-Wolf out of retirement". The Australian. Retrieved 6 February 2016.
  13. ^ a b Fitzgerald, Michael (22 January 1996). "Ningali's telling truths". Time (4): 57. ISSN 0818-0628.
  14. ^ a b Casey, Maryrose (2004). Creating Frames: Contemporary Indigenous Theatre 1967–1990. University of Queensland Press. pp. 279–280. ISBN 978-0-7022-3432-3. Retrieved 11 February 2016.
  15. ^ Adamson, Judy (2 August 2002). "Jest good friends". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  16. ^ Stephenson, Peta (1 October 2001). "Finding Common Ground: Indigenous and Asian Diasporic Cultural Production in Australia". Hecate. Archived from the original on 24 April 2017. Retrieved 24 April 2017 – via HighBeam Research.
  17. ^ "Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002)". Australian Screen. National Film and Sound Archive. Retrieved 19 August 2019.
  18. ^ "Little J & Big Cuz: Australia's first indigenous animation series for kids". Life Matters. 1 May 2017. Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  19. ^ Hetrick, Adam (14 August 2019). "Australian Actor Ningali Lawford-Wolf Dies During Edinburgh Run of The Secret River". Playbill. Brightspot. Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  20. ^ Paul Rodger (14 August 2019). "Australian actress dies while on tour at the Edinburgh International Festival". Retrieved 19 August 2019.
  21. ^ Performing Arts Editor (14 August 2019). "Acclaimed actor Ningali Lawford-Wolf dies". ArtsHub. Retrieved 18 August 2019.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  22. ^ a b Convery, Stephanie (14 August 2019). "Ningali Lawford-Wolf, star of The Secret River, dies aged 52 on tour". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 14 August 2019.
  23. ^ "Statement on behalf of Ningali Lawford-Wolf's family and Sydney Theatre Company". Sydney Theatre Company. Retrieved 7 September 2019.
  24. ^ a b "Indigenous Australian actor dies on tour". 14 August 2019. Retrieved 14 August 2019.
  25. ^ Carmody, Broede (14 August 2019). "Acclaimed Indigenous actor, 52, dies in Scotland". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 14 August 2019.

External linksEdit