(Report by Jason Frenkel, Director of Media, Garma Festival, Casuarina NT, 5 August 2022)
Garma Festival is Australia’s premier Indigenous event, a celebration of the cultural, artistic, and ceremonial traditions of the Yolngu people. It made its long-awaited return after a two-year absence because of the pandemic.
Garma Festival was a 4-day event, held from 29 July to 1 August 2022, in northeast Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory that is a celebration of Yolngu culture and life. During the four days of the Garma in the remote Arnhem Land, guests are immersed in the rich cultural heritage of Yolngu hosts, experiencing traditional miny’tji (art), ancient story-telling, manikay (song), and bunggul (dance). The overriding artistic vision and cultural mission of Garma are to provide a contemporary environment for the expression and presentation of traditional Yolngu knowledge systems and customs and to share these practices in an authentic Yolngu setting. It is a window into a slice of life not often seen outside of remote communities, and guests often describe it as a life-altering experience.
Garma Festival is also the number one platform for the discussion and debate of Indigenous policy issues, attracting politicians, business leaders, philanthropists, and academics from across the nation.
One of the major highlights this year was when Prime Minister Anthony Albanese revealed details of his plan to hold a referendum and set up an Indigenous Voice to Parliament to advise the Government on policy matters that impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
But there’s more to Garma than just politics and policy – it’s a chance to learn about the beauty and sophistication of Yolngu culture and experience its different traditions and customs.
Each afternoon, the 13 different clans of the region perform ceremonial dance and song, while many artists from around the region shows their work in a beautiful art gallery set among the trees, which is lit up spectacularly at night.
Many school students also attend Garma and take part in the Youth Forum, where they learn about Yolngu culture and talk about the issues affecting First Nations people.
Garma is held at a Gumatj ceremonial site named Gulkula, about 40km from the township of Nhulunbuy on the Gove Peninsula. This year, more than 2000 people attended this year’s event.