Australia’s leading cultural exchange event the Garma Festival, is preparing for its 15th year of sharing the Yolngu culture this August. Hosted by the Yothu Yindi Foundation, the Garma festival is an internationally renowned festival held at Gulkula, a spiritually significant traditional meeting ground in Arnhem Land.
This unique festival features spectacular celebrations of cultural traditions and practices in the form of dance, song, music, and art. “Garma literally means saltwater and freshwater mixing together and blending, intermingling and moving onwards,” says the General Manager of the Yothu Yindi Foundation Denise Bowden. “It’s about Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples coming together for a cultural exchange of ideas, and then taking that information away, back to their homes and learning from it. Garma is basically about education.”
In 1990 the concept of a Bush University was discussed when the Yothu Yindi Foundation (YYF) was originally established. These ideologies have evolved as part of the YYF’s broad agenda in the realisation that young Aboriginal people were leaving school without fundamental knowledge. “We have been working on something called the Garma Institute – a Bush University. We’ve been working with the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Jenny Macklin, who has given the Foundation funding which was announced at the 2010 Garma festival. That money was matched by the Gumatj Foundation,” she says. “We’re finding we now have a generation of kids who don’t have good literacy and numeracy skills – they’re leaving school without foundational skills. To get employment you need those things. “Garma Institute will begin as a foundational learning centre for those kids who are leaving school. We’ll be making an announcement at the Garma Institute this year at a key forum [held in conjunction with the festival]. “For the first time we will have a class room at Garma. I’ve been talking to the local schools about getting those kids into that class room.” This year is particularly special for the Gama Festival because it’s the 50th Anniversary of the Yirrkala Bark Petitions, the first traditional documents prepared by Aboriginal people recognised by the Australian Parliament. “The Yolngu people consider the Yirrkala Bark Petitions as the equivalent of the Sistine Chapel, that’s the magnitude of it,” she says.
Each year many of Australia’s significant Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders attend the festival to share and exchange information, as Gulkula is recognised as trusted place. Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott have been invited to the festival to discuss this year’s key forum theme – A Bi-Partisan Project: Partnerships, Reconciliation and Future Prosperity. “We asked them to come based on the fact that it’s the 50th anniversary of the Yirrkala Bark Petitions, and attend the forum and participate in the discussions.” The land where the festival is held is home of Gumatj man Mr Yunupingu. A tribute for this extraordinary man is already being planned. “I think it will come in the form of a tribute, whether it be through Yolngu song lines or the dance,” Denise explains. “People are still grieving very deeply at this moment. He was very much a leader who could cut through divides.”
Garma festival will be running from 9 – 12 August at Gulkula via Nhulunbuy, NE Arnhem Land, NT, Australia. If you’re able to, make sure you visit this unique combination of education, entertainment and real cultural interaction, exchange and immersion. For more information head to: http://www.yyf.com.au/