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Groundbreaking artist Lillian Crombie passes away at 66

Rhiannon Clarke -

WARNING: This article contains the name and image of an Aboriginal person who has passed.

Pitjantjatjara/Yankunytjatjara woman, Lillian Crombie, has passed away at the age of 66, as confirmed by her daughter Elaine on social media.

Elaine wrote on facebook that her mother lived a full, exciting life.

Aunty Lillian's childhood was spent in Port Pirie in South Australia. During her formative years she immersed herself in the world of performing arts; studying acting, dance, and drama.

At the Port Pirie Ballet School, she pursued classical ballet, standing out as the sole Aboriginal girl in her class. Before venturing into acting, she also took mime classes.

When she turned 16, she seized an opportunity to further her dance skills by moving to Sydney on a dance scholarship. Her passion for the arts led her to train in New York and at the prestigious National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA).

News clipping image Lillian Crombie with Roslyn Watson (Image: sourced from Delving into dance)

In the '80s she studied alongside the talented dancers of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.

Aunty Lillian graced stages across the nation and embarked on international tours to showcase her acting prowess.

She portrayed the leading characters in acclaimed productions like Mereki the Peacemaker, Conversations with The Dead, Black Mary - Festival of Dreaming, Gunjies, Capricornia, The Cherry Pickers, Rainbow's End, and many more.

Returning to her homeland, Aunty Lillian mesmerised audiences on the small screen with her appearances in popular television series such as The Secret Life of Us and Mystery Road, as well as the film Australia, directed by Baz Luhrmann.

Aunty Lillian started alongside Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman in Baz Luhrmann's film Australia. (Image: Getty Images)

In 2019 Aunty Lillian's achievements were honoured with a prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award bestowed by the Equity Foundation.

This recognition was a testament to her contribution to the arts world.

Renowned playwright and artistic director, Wesley Enoch, hailed her as a true pioneer, blazing a trail for the telling of First Nations stories.

"Her amazing comic timing is legendary. Who could ever resist the way she winks an eye and flashes her smile and has you laughing while she delivers a huge life lesson," he said

Aunty Lillian has always been driven by her passion for dance and she established the Lillian Crombie School of Dance and Drama.

The school serves as a haven that nurtures the artistic talents of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in regional South Australia.

The Lillian Crombie School of Dance and Drama served as a safe haven for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. (Image: sourced from The Advertiser)

In a heartfelt interview with Delving into Dance in 2020, Ms Crombie revealed that her ultimate goal was to give others the same life-changing opportunities that had shaped her own journey.

"I really want them to have the same experience as I have and I want the kids to if they do love whatever they do, be a fireman, dancer, policeman, whatever," she said.

"You just don't give up on your love because it's your life. You know it's about living it.

"It's about experiencing it ... and I think that's why when I went to NIDA that brought the acting out of me more. I honed it and owned it and with dancing, I danced it, dancing gave me that."

In 2015, she founded the Lillian Crombie Foundation to support Indigenous families' travel needs for Sorry Business.

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