History, culture and community are celebrated in style at these incredible Aboriginal festivals.
By Lee Atkinson and Leah Dobihal
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 (a four-hour 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.
Yabun Festival, Sydney
Yabun, which means ‘music to a beat’ in Gadigal language, brings a celebration of Aboriginal culture to Sydney on 26 January each year. Held on the traditional lands of the Gadigal people, Yabun Festival celebrates and recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures with music, dance, and performances that express and impress. Move with the music of Aboriginal artists, peruse the Aboriginal -themed market stalls and learn from panel discussions held in the festival’s Speak Out Tent. The event is free, and everyone is welcome to join in the festivities, with activities for children and adults alike.
Grand Final Day, Tiwi Islands
Football is serious business in the Tiwi Islands, the 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 2,700 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.
Tarnanthi, meaning to come forth or appear, brings together Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander artists from across the country in an event that presents Aboriginal culture on a huge scale. Held in Adelaide on the traditional lands of the Kaurna people, Tarnanthi invites you to dive deep into one of the world's oldest living cultures. Listen to the important and ancient stories of the artists, learn about the depth of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and celebrate new beginnings through performances and artist talks. Visit the event’s art fair to discover unique artworks, from intricate dot paintings to detailed bark paintings.
Parrtjima, Alice Springs
Parrtjima, which takes over the outback town of Alice Springs each year, is a light festival like no other. Set against the stunning backdrop of the MacDonnell Ranges, Parrtjima encourages you to interact with local artists, celebrate Aboriginal art, and engulf yourself in the rich history of the region. Join in ten days of live talks, events, music and installations that will offer incredible insight into the world’s oldest living culture. Nearby, trek the Larapinta Trail on your own or on a guided excursion and explore the grandeur of Kings Canyon, an ancient formation of red rock and dense forest.
Garma, Gove, Arnhem Land
The ancient and beautiful landscapes of Arnhem Land are home to one of the year's most impactful Aboriginal festivals, Garma. Hosted by the Yothu Yindi Foundation (YYF), Garma takes place each August, gathering thousands of political leaders, business minds and visitors to celebrate the Yolngu (Aboriginal people of north east Arnhem Land) culture. This festival is remote, but it's also powerful, vibrant and transformational. Hear the rumble of the didgeridoo mark the start of Garma, as it has called people together for thousands of years. You'll see unique displays of traditional song, dance, craft and knowledge, becoming entirely immersed in the world's oldest living culture.