Spear throwing competition, Barunga Festival, Northern Territory
The Barunga Festival is one of Australia’s biggest Aboriginal celebrations – and you’re invited.
By Ute Junker
The Barunga Festival is one of the Northern Territory’s biggest community events, with Aboriginal communities and thousands of festival-goers descending on the tiny township of Barunga (population 350), near Katherine, for one big party. Held each June, the festival celebrates all aspects of Aboriginal life, from traditional skills such as spear throwing to some fast and furious Aussie rules football action.
Try your hand at traditional skills
The Barunga Festival is a family-friendly affair, with a varied calendar of events that encourages everyone to join in. You can learn how to use bush tucker for medicine or food, take part in a weaving or spear-making workshop, or even attend a session dedicated to making yidaki (also known as didgeridoos). Alternatively, watch local experts show off their skills in contests dedicated to spear throwing and yidaki playing.
Sporting contests are also an important part of the festival, which has been running for more than three decades. Cheer on the men’s teams competing in the Aussie Rules Football Carnival, and the equally determined women’s teams in the Softball Carnival.
Don't miss the music
No festival is complete without music and dancing, and Barunga has plenty of both. The opening ceremony showcases the area’s traditional music and dance; watching painted performers taking part in ancient tribal dances is an unforgettable sight. In the evenings, the focus shifts to more modern music, as bands take to the stage. Headline acts have included well-known Australian artists, but often standout performances come from local bush bands. These performers, who live in some of Australia’s most far-flung communities, rarely get to perform for such large crowds; no wonder they are determined to put on a good show.
Bring on the beanie festival
This is not the only Aboriginal festival in the area each June: hot on the heels of the Barunga Festival comes another unique celebration, in Alice Springs. The annual Beanie Festival started 21 years ago as a way of supporting crafts in Aboriginal communities. These days it attracts international support – 6800 beanies from around the world will be on sale – and offers workshops on everything from desert weaving to bush tucker.
Get ready to go camping
Because the town of Barunga is so small, the only accommodation option here is camping – so you’ll need to bring your own gear. Though there are some great food options available at open-air stalls (pictured above), electricity supplies are limited, so don’t count on recharging your phone. However, the reward for surviving a few days without creature comforts is immense. Barunga lets you learn about the world’s oldest surviving culture and discover what life in remote Australia is really like – not to mention giving you the chance to join in at an amazing party.
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