Twelve Flinders University staff members were fortunate to experience the annual Garma Festival of Traditional Culture held in August, in North East Arnhem Land, about 30 minutes from the township of Nhulunbuy, Northern Territory. Flinders NT staff hosted senior staff from Adelaide to experience this unique event.
The Festival was established by the Yothu Yindi Foundation, whose vision is for Yolngu and other Indigenous Australians to have the same level of wellbeing and life opportunities as non-Indigenous Australians. The aim of the festival is to discuss economic and educational opportunities, and reconciliation through the sharing of culture and traditional practice in a culturally safe environment.
The festival opened with a Bunggul ceremonial dance, a welcome by Galarrwuy Yunupingu AM, Chair of the Yothu Yindi Foundation, and responses by the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. Days were filled with in-depth discussions about reconciliation, youth education, and economic opportunities beneficial to North East Arnhem Land. Each evening’s cultural activities began with a Bunggul followed by traditional and contemporary music, film, song and dance which were enjoyed well into the night.
A key outcome of the festival was the request to the Prime Minister and Opposition leader to consider a makarrata (process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations). The process for the Go! Bukulungdhun Makarrata Wu’, Settling our Differences started from a meeting of Aboriginal leaders at Uluru and resulted in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The passionate politics of the proposed referendum creating an Indigenous voice to advise parliament on Indigenous policy was on display.
Festival highlights from Flinders staff who attended included the following comments:
Just watching Indigenous and non-Indigenous people mixing in such a positive, productive and respectful way. It gives me such hope for the future. Also to be in Arnhem Land – what a truly beautiful, peaceful place.
[I enjoyed] hearing the discussion embedded in Aboriginal culture and recognising the depth of ownership the First Australians have to this country
Experiencing aboriginal culture and its span of history was fascinating. Watching the government representatives give their perspectives, seeing their balance between what is right and what is politically expedient etc, all fascinating.