First and foremost, the fundamental event to attend is the annual NAIDOC celebrations. This is the biggest Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander celebration of the year with events across every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nation. From its formation as a protest against Australia Day celebrations, to its pageant parades and crowning of Miss NAIDOC, awards recognising significant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals’ and groups’ achievements, and its ongoing recognition as a place of communal gatherings and networking. Being part of the institution and tradition that is NAIDOC is a must.
As an Aboriginal person growing up, my early experiences of festive occasions were of family ceremonies, gatherings and community events. As with most Aboriginal people, our connections to the bush make attendance at country fairs and rodeos a must, often to give enthusiastic (and unconditional) support for at least one Akubra wearing Uncle, a cute poddy riding nephew, or an ad hoc Aunty from falling off a bucking farm animal. Then there is also the obligatory attendance at sporting events that cause the mob to go hoarse on a weekly basis during footy season.
Over the years I have attended many-a Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander festival. Despite the unpredictable life expectancy of festivals, often due to varying circumstances including budgets and programing, there continues to be a wide variety of them to attend throughout time and place. A few of the commonly known ones are festivals like the late Survival and Dreaming Festivals, The Barunga Festival, Garma, The Laura Festival, Yabun, The Boomerang Festival, Salt Water Fresh Water Festival, and The Spirit Festival. When it comes to choosing whether to attend a festival, the cost, travel, accommodation, and logistics are often the main ones. But Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander punters often add a few more points to their list of considerations as to why they lose interest and when deciding whether to attend or support an event:
1. How deadly is the use of language? Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages are empowering and its use truly embodies cultural maintenance and continuation. If a festival or arts fair carries a name too obvious, stereotyped or clichéd it can run the risk of being labelled gammon
2. What’s important to the mob is the opportunity for them to catch up with each other, with relatives and folk they may not have seen for ages. It’s rare that you get to attend a big event surrounded by a majority of black faces, something we call a Black Out. It fills us with excitement and a sense of pride and pleasure.
3. A festival whose true intent is to showcase the quality, talent and diversity of the artists, and not so much about its organisers and sponsors. A festival that embraces, integrates, and encompasses: voice, involvement, employment and opportunity for, and majority ownership by, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
4. A festival that attracts too many new age (or old age) hippies, hipsters or wannabes – can be a major turn off. We don’t attend to reconcile. We do want to celebrate. We do want a festival with a strong identity and purpose for the mob, not one that tries to be too many things to too many people.
5. If an event is deemed deadly the community grapevine springs into gear. It’s quite an effective marketing tool and sometimes all you need.
As Tim Curry’s Dr Frank N’ Furter so brilliantly states – Antici—Pation! is the final ingredient to garnish the creation of Melbourne’s new Indigenous Arts Festival, Yirramboi. A program filled with contemporary vision and diversity has the grapevine a buzz. I am already filled with a sense of sorry business and peace at the Stiff Gins inspiration to repatriate Indigenous objects and artefacts through song with their Spirit of Things performance. I am trying to visualise the hidden truths of our colonisation that the marriage of dance to poetry will uncover, with Timmah Ball’s work Last Stone Left. I am excited to see the exhibition Recentre, curated by Kimberley Moulton, that will showcasing the role Aboriginal women play in activism, healthy communities and cultural maintenance. Matriarchal narratives and works that highlight the strength of sisterhood and their voices aren’t heard enough. And who doesn’t want to the see Chasing Smoke? Produced by Davey Thompson as part of Circus Oz’ BLAKflip Masterclasses the show is about growth for both black and white. As Davey aptly explains…
‘After being nurtured by the cream of the crop in Australian circus artistry, six deadly emerging artists smash up the stage THEIR WAY.’
I sensed success for my old NAIDSA classmate Jacob from back in day. Turning up early to the studio allowed me a front row seat to hilarious adlibbed dance performances that on reflection revealed his future talent, vision and drive. Now as the Creative Director of YIRRAMBOI First Nations Arts Festival, Jacob Boheme says on attending the festival, “erase old ways of thinking about Indigenous arts and culture, it’s time to open your mind.”
Indeed it is. YIRRAMBOI First Nations Arts Festival runs from the May 5 – 14 in Melbourne, and is set to be a benchmark in contemporary Indigenous festival production.
 Melbourne Magazine. 2017. City of Melbourne. [ONLINE] Available at: http://magazine.melbourne.vic.gov.au/city-news/yirramboi-first-nation-arts-festival/. [Accessed 10 April 2017].