I'm feeling like a bit of a train wreck at the moment. Although I've moved around quite a lot in the past few years, it never gets any easier to say goodbye or to start over in a new place. I'm leaving Australia today...well, hopefully leaving today. At the moment I'm stuck in the Sydney airport waiting for a typhoon-delayed flight that is 8 hours late. It's a bit of a nightmare, but on the bright side it does give me a good long while to write some things on this blog that I've been thinking about lately.
I had the great pleasure to travel to Northeast Arnhem Land two weeks ago to attend the Garma Festival of Traditional Culture. Arnhem Land is in Australia's Northern Territory, and is the home of the Yolngu--one of Australia's largest groups of Aboriginal people. The festival is run by the Yothu Yindu Foundation and aims to celebrate Yolngu culture and to create a respectful environment for the sharing of knowledge between indigenous and non-indigenous people. It was really a beautiful experience for me.
I participated in the 'cultural tourism' program, which involved quite a lot of hands-on learning experiences, and opportunities to interact with one particular Yolngu family, who acted as our guides and hosts for the week. There were other programs at Garma that were more conference-style, with various presentations and discussions on a variety of subjects relating to Aboriginal culture and land. Next year the key forum subject is art, so I'm already thinking of how I might be able to make it back!
The festival is located in a remote area outside of Yirrkala, where a city of tents is erected once a year for the week. Each day we would split into men's and women's groups in order to learn about some aspect of traditional culture. In the evenings we would reconvene to watch the Bunggul--a ceremony featuring the traditional dance and music of numerous clan groups from around the area. This was truly awe-inspiring. Click here and here to see some great pictures of the dancers (I don't have permission to publish my own images of people from the festival, and will refrain from doing so out of respect.) After the Bunggul, there were concerts every night featuring everything from country music (Jimmy Little) to hip hop to reggae. There were also film screenings and art events. And we saw these guys:
The Chooky Dancers!
Some of the highlights of the cultural tourism program were going with the women to listen to the wind, wade in the mud and collect bush medicine:
Seeing the most beautiful coastline in the world at Bawaka:
And learning some new basket weaving techniques using pandanus leaves:
But by far the best part of the festival was the grace and warmth of the Yolngu people. It always feels a bit awkward for me when I am a tourist in a foreign culture. However, the Yolngu were so welcoming, and made a point to tell us--from their hearts--that we were welcome, that we were a part of their family now, and that they were happy to have the opportunity to share their knowledge with us. On the final night of bunggul, each of the Yolngu dancers--roughly 50 people, came around the audience to shake each of our hands and say goodbye. It was really a touching experience, and something that will stay with me.