From ancient traditions to more contemporary practices, Australia’s Aboriginal people celebrate and share their culture at many colourful festivals. Learn about the Yolngu people of north-east Arnhem Land at the vibrant Garma Festival or head to Cape York Peninsula for the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival. Browse a diverse range of Aboriginal art at the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair or enjoy everything from concerts to comedy at Queensland’s Dreaming Festival. Choose from three Aboriginal events at Kununurra’s Ord Valley Muster or listen to talented new Aboriginal musicians as part of Melbourne’s St Kilda Festival. Experience life in a remote Arnhem Land community at the Stone Country Festival or travel back into the Dreamtime at Walking with Spirits.
Ord Valley Muster, Western Australia
You’ll have the chance to get to three Aboriginal events as part of the riotous Ord Valley Muster, held in May in Kununurra. Pack a picnic for the Barramundi Concert, which the Miriwoong Gajeroong landowners open with traditional dance, didgeridoo and clap sticks. It also features contemporary acts such as Mary G, the self-proclaimed ‘Black Queen of the Kimberley’. Learn about the Ord Valley’s spiritual significance from local Aboriginal people at Sharing our Stories. Or take part in the Waringarri Corroboree, an exhibition of East Kimberley artworks accompanied by a traditional corroboree. See the Aboriginal Dreaming brought to life through song and dance while feasting on campfire-cooked beef and damper.
Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival, Queensland
Hundreds of dancers and thousands of visitors flock to the tiny town of Laura for the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival every second June. It’s a chance for Aboriginal communities from across the Cape York Peninsula to celebrate and share their culture through dance, song, art and performance. Families reconnect and pass down stories while travellers from everywhere come to experience a culture stretching back more than 40,000 years. Pitch a tent in the festival campsite, held on sacred grounds near Laura’s renowned prehistoric rock art. You can get here by detouring off the Great Tropical Drive between Cooktown and Mareeba.
The Dreaming Festival, Queensland
Aboriginal artists join indigenous performers from around the globe at the Dreaming Festival, held at Woodford over three days in June. Everything from concerts to art galleries to films and forums are on offer at this vibrant and diverse global gathering. Attend the opening ceremony, where the Jinibara Aboriginal people welcome you to their country. Experience traditional healing, take a craft workshop, see contemporary dance performances and gather round the campfire for stories of the Dreaming. You’ll also find plays, comedy acts, a food and wine fair, bars, arts spaces and a kid’s festival. Woodford is 90 minutes drive north of Brisbane or two hours south of Noosa.
Walking with Spirits, Northern Territory
Travel deep into Arnhem Land and discover its sacred story at Walking with Spirits. It’s held over a weekend in late July or early August at MalkgulumbuItu, a waterfall and sacred lakeside site around 100 kilometres south-east of Katherine. Camp amongst the paperbark trees and connect to the epic Dreamtime, which shaped this land and its spirits, animals, plants and seasons. The Jawoyn people share their story through traditional corroborree as well as dance, music, puppetry, film and fiery images. This is the only time in the year you can visit this remote and beautiful location, and tickets to the event are limited.
Garma Festival, Northern Territory
Connect to the timeless customs of the Yolngu people at the Garma Festival, held in north-east Arnhem Land in August. Enjoy ceremonial song and dance, immerse yourself in the region’s rich and distinctive visual art or attend an academic forum. Hunt for bush tucker, bush medicines and bush dye with the women or learn to make and throw spears with the men. Non-Aboriginal guests are welcomed alongside local and neighbouring Aboriginal groups to this vibrant five-day showcase. It’s held amidst the stringybark forest of Gulkula, where the spirit ancestor Ganbulapula forged the first didgeridoo. Gulkula is around 40km from Nhulunbuy township and 14km from Gove airport.
Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair, Northern Territory
Bark paintings, metal sculptures, didgeridoos, fibre art and jewellery are just some of the diverse art works for sale in the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair in August. It’s a unique opportunity for you to buy direct from more that 40 community-owned Aboriginal art centres from across Australia. You can also discover emerging and established artists, talk to the artists themselves and learn about the distinctive artistic styles of different cultural groups. Find woven baskets from East Gippsland, Dreamtime dot paintings from Alice Springs or get up close to the ochre-coloured canvas paintings produced by the Warmun artists of the Kimberley region.
Gunbalanya ‘Stone Country’ Festival, Northern Territory
Experience life in the Gunbalanya (Oenpelli) community of western Arnhem Land at the Stone Country Festival in August. It’s a day when the Kunwinjku speaking people fling open their doors to visitors. Watch dancing, listen to the didgeridoo and sample bush tucker. Join a rock art tour, take a scenic flight over the awe-inspiring landscapes of Kakadu or cheer on local athletes at the sports carnival. The community art centre hosts painting and fibre art demonstrations, while local bands headline the day’s musical festivities. Gunbalanya is a three hour drive from Darwin or 45 minutes from Jabiru in Kakadu National Park.
Yalukit Willam Ngargee, Victoria
Listen to Aboriginal singers and bands, browse art exhibitions and see world-class contemporary dance at Yalukit Willam Ngargee. It’s part of Melbourne’s summer St Kilda Festival in February. The name means ‘people place gathering’ and the lively, free event gathers a great line-up of performers. Discover new and established Aboriginal performers, from the didgeridoo playing Ganga Girl to the Motown-inspired Ian Tambo. Relax in the sunshine and enjoy the music on the main stage or catch bands after dark in a St Kilda pub. There are also book launches and readings, short film screenings, roving performers and the Koorie Night Markets selling unique arts and wares.