In celebration of NAIDOC week, we look at some of Australia’s best Aboriginal festivals.
By Lee Atkinson
Australia's Aboriginal culture is one of the oldest on the planet, and the best way to experience it – expressed through song and dance, sport, film, art, fashion and food – is at one of the many festivals held around the country each year. More than just a celebration, they are important community events where ancient stories and traditions are handed down to youngsters, as well as a time to come together and have fun. Everyone's welcome to join in.
Experience Australia's beautiful Aboriginal culture
Laura Dance Festival, Cape York
Every two years the tiny town of Laura (four hours drive north of Cairns) turns into an enormous festival, reverberating to the beat of a thousand dancing feet. The Laura Dance festival is one of the largest and oldest Aboriginal cultural festivals in Australia, where people from more than 20 communities gather to dance up a storm, perform cultural ceremonies and sing ancient rhythms and songs that have been sung for millennia. People who visit this festival often leave feeling very grateful for the experience. You can also visit the Quinkan rock art sites, where ancient paintings don't just document historical Aboriginal life but show their startling first encounters with arriving Europeans.
Garma, Arnhem Land
The Garma festival is the country's most important meeting of Aboriginal elders, politicians, business leaders and policy makers, held every August near Nhulunbuy, in north-east Arnhem Land, in the Northern Territory. But it's not all business. There are four nights of traditional and contemporary music, cultural workshops where you can learn how to make spears, paint, weave and learn the Yolngu language, as well as an indigenous film festival and outdoor art shows. The nightly Bunggul Dance is a breathtaking expression of culture.
Grand Final Day, Tiwi Islands
Football is serious business in the Tiwi Islands, birthplace of some of Australia's most famous AFL (Australian Football League, or Aussie rules) players. These two tiny islands, a 20 minute flight or two hour ferry trip from Darwin in the Northern Territory, are home to just 2700 people but eight Aussie rules teams, and Grand Final Day (usually the second-last Sunday in March) is the biggest day of the year. Much more than just a rollicking good sports match, it's an enormous gathering that has family members returning from all over Australia to cheer on their teams. The event coincides with the annual Tiwi Art Sale, a great chance to buy globally sought after art and crafts, including distinctive wooden sculptures, made by the local Aboriginal community.
Tjungu Festival, Uluru
Uluru is one of the most spiritual places in Australia, and arguably the perfect place to celebrate Australia's Aboriginal culture. Tjungu is a four day festival held in April at Ayers Rock Resort that kicks off with the Inma dance, a "welcome to country" ceremony performed by the local Anangu people. Taste traditional bush foods, pick up a handmade souvenir at the markets, enjoy an Aboriginal fashion parade and short film festival and dance to traditional and contemporary Aboriginal bands. You can cheer on the boys playing Aussie rules football at the Tjungu Cup and dine in the desert at Tastes of Tjungu, with a modern bush food inspired menu and cooking masterclass hosted by a celebrity chef.
Barunga Festival, Katherine
One of the biggest community events in the Top End (the tropical northern reaches of the Northern Territory), the Barunga Festival, held about an hour's drive south-east of Katherine, is a fabulous chance to party and play with the locals. Over three days on the long weekend in June it's a mix of dancing, live music (traditional and modern), art shows, cultural workshops, a circus, and lots of sport, including Aussie rules football. It's glitz and glamour-free – you’ll need to bring your own camping gear – but offers an opportunity to immerse yourself in an authentic cultural celebration found nowhere else on Earth.
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