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14 December 2007


GALARRWUY YUNUPINGU: Garma is about sharing and uniting people. It's not about dividing and going different directions. It's about unity, it's about learning from each other, the unique Indigenous culture as well as the contemporary knowledge that we learn from the white man's world.

ALAN JAMES: The festival was inspired by elders and leaders from five different clan groups in North-East Arnhem Land about nine years ago. The idea was to come up with an event that focused on traditional culture and traditional knowledge. The festival's held on a site called Gulkula, which is about 40 kilometres south of Nhulunbuy. The town itself was set up as a service town for a bauxite mine, which is currently owned by one of our principal partners, Alcan. The festival's held well out of town on a bush location, which means the set-up's quite complex. We have to bring in power, water and facilities and amenities required to house up to 2,000 people for five days. And we provide full catering services, three meals a day. And it's on a beautiful escarpment that overlooks the Gulf of Carpentaria. Most of the Yolngu, which is the name for the Aboriginal people of the North-East Arnhem region, they come in for the bunngul, which is the traditional ceremonial dancing that happens each afternoon from four o'clock through till sunset.

GALARRWUY YUNUPINGU: We are now inviting a lot of important people from all over the nation. And particularly around the world. We are hoping that they will come and participate in Garma activities and share the knowledge from their part of the world and their part of the country with us here in Garma.

ALAN JAMES: Each year the festival has a key forum that's usually of academic nature of one sort or another. And this year's forum was on Indigenous education and training. The ambition with the forums is to come up with the capacity to influence policy and strategy for the Territory Government and nationally, with a view to positively help difficult issues in the Indigenous arena.

HELEN GARNETT: Garma's a unique place. We're out here in the trees, camping. And it allows you to not only listen and learn from people's experiences but it allows you to stand with people in the queue for your food, it allows you to sit round the camp fire. And there's nothing like the capacity to have exchanges with no phones ringing, no television and no distractions. We're all here together and the Indigenous people are sharing their culture, we're learning, and of course they're also learning from us. And that's what Garma's all about. It's both ways learning in this wonderful environment where we share our experiences. And the sharing is just on all levels. And linkages that are made - institutional linkages, personal linkages - are something that, well, they stand you in good stead. And Garma's an experience for life.

TEGAN RUSSELL: Words can't describe to me about how much I feel so blessed and honoured to have her as my amela and me as her waku, which is daughter, that's right?


ALAN JAMES: We run a cultural tourism program that is a pilot, basically, for the development of culturally appropriate tourism for the region. This year we had 65 tourists come in from nationally and internationally. They have a really unique program that starts off in the morning as a group and then splits for most of the day into men and women's groups, which is along Yolngu cultural sort of practices.

MAN: Every one of you want to play an instrument, right?


Yo? Cool.

ALAN JAMES: We also have a contemporary music training program and this year we had I think it was 14 bands from schools and communities around the Northern Territory, all Indigenous. And so during the day, they have workshops and recordings and there's a lunchtime stage and an evening stage for performers. A new initiative this year was the new Youth Forum. And around 150 youth aged between 12 and 18 participated in daily workshops and sessions that focused on a variety of activities from having fun in general ways through to quite serious dialogue about their vision for the future. There's a lot of participation from local Indigenous organisations. This year Dhimurru Land Management, the local ranger organisation, did a presentation and they utilised the bunngul on the Saturday night to launch their Sea Country Plan.

BERNIE McLEOD: Unbelievable, I've never been to a festival that holds a lot of Aboriginal people plus non-Indigenous people here and they're all here for one thing, is to celebrate Garma. And I think it's a wonderful experience.

PHILIP ADAMS: It is a phenomenal and wonderful thing to see, and to be at - Garma. It's another part of the Yothu Yindi benevolent scheme. It is extraordinary in that it juggles the cultural with the political with the economic. And it's really, I think, had an immense amount of influence in the years it's been running.

ALAN JAMES: The business of conducting an event that young Yolngu can see and feel that relevance and importance is being placed on their traditional culture is probably our primary aim. And one of the best accolades that we get is when people say to us that this is the first time they've ever been to a black event that white people come to versus a white event that black people are invited to. And there's a sense of empowerment for the Indigenous people and a sense of control there that is rarely found elsewhere. And I think that's a very important part of what Garma is.