EVERY August since 1998, people have come from Australia and overseas to experience Yothu Yindi Foundation’s Garma Festival. Held in a remote coastal corner of Arnhem Land, rich with land and sea rights history, there is fiery debate by day, traditional dance in the afternoon and music by night. One of those performances is the bunggul – and on Garma’s final day it seems like it will go forever.
I’ve slipped forward to sit in the powdery red dust that is sprayed out by the dancers’ heels. Each of the Yolŋu nation’s clans dances in a different colour: red fabric for Dhalwangu, blue for Mangalili, yellow for Gumatj, and so on. And now, a group of women advancing with water-bird grace, slapping their shoulders with gum leaves, wearing rainbow-coloured fabric to signify – I don’t know. I could ask but I’ve learnt it’s good to stay silent too; to just watch. To not know everything or expect I should. I close my eyes to let the drone of bulmi (clap sticks), yidaki (didgeridoo) and voice take me on its unbroken line to an older time.
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