Garma Festival — a kaleidoscope of culture

Parks Australia's business manager Michelle Callaway with Timor president Jose Ramos-Horta who attended this year's Garma Festival to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Yolngu people.

I don’t camp and I must confess the thought of no hot water for a whole weekend made me somewhat nervous, but attending the Garma Festival in north-east Arnhem Land is an experience I wouldn’t have traded for a month in a five star resort!

The Commonwealth Bank sponsored 19 guests, including myself, to attend the Yolngu’s annual celebration of Indigenous knowledge, ideas and values. The festival is a feature on the Indigenous calendar and attracts businesses and tourists from all over Australia and the world.

It was a kaleidoscope of culture — dance, song, music, art — as well as some serious sharing of ideas about issues important to Indigenous people, particularly education and employment opportunities.

The passion with which people spoke about handing down their traditional culture — a legacy that goes back for thousands of years — was truly inspiring especially when our host Dhanggal Gurruwiwi generously shared her time and stories with our group.

It was a weekend of highlights — meeting Timor’s President Dr Jose Ramos-Horta who was there to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Yolngu people, listening to Jack Thompson tell stories at dinner, and sitting glued for two hours watching the Bunggul, a series of dances and songs presented by each clan.

I even got up before dawn and sat on the edge of the escarpment to listen to the Mikarri — the women’s crying ceremony.

A world away from my finance desk in Canberra, I came away with a whole new perspective on Indigenous issues as well as an insight into the environment in which some of my park colleagues work. It was truly an unforgettable experience.

Michelle Callaway, Parks Australia