treaty – Michmutters

Sport, music and culture shine at Barunga Festival 2022 after COVID postponements

The dust barely settles as it drifts across thousands of spectators circled around traditional dancers from Groote Eylandt kicking up a storm this weekend in the remote NT community of Barunga.

Historically, the buŋgul, a meeting place of dance, song and ritual, at Barunga Festival is largely admired from the sidelines — but this year was different.

“Barunga is one of those different places, it brings so many people from different communities to try to share together in one place, that’s what Barunga is all about,” Groote Eylandt dancer Leonard Amagula says.

“It is reaching out to other communities, reaching out to the young ones, to grow up and see we are doing wonderful things.”

Dancers on sand can be seen through the crowd.
The crowd is invited to take part in traditional dances. (ABC News: Max Rowley)

It starts as a trickle, and then legions of people from the crowd swirl into the centre, and press together behind the Groote Eylandt Anindilyakwa experts, billowing sand across the tiny community about 400 kilometers south-east of Darwin.

It’s one of those special moments that makes the three-day festival what it is; a place where both historic agreements are made and the promise of treaties echoes loudly.

And a place where remote Indigenous culture is strengthened simply by sharing in it.

A ‘rough but happy’ beginning

The festival has a long and important history that started over three decades ago in 1985.

Mr Amagula has been a regular attendee since his teens.

Back then, he says, it was “kinda rough but happy” and much larger with far more people traveling in from other Aboriginal communities.

A man in a hat files a Didgeridoo at Barunga.
Cultural workshops including yidaki (didgeridoo) making ran all weekend. (ABC Katherine: Roxanne Fitzgerald)

This year, after the festival was postponed due to COVID, creative director Michael Hohnen says that balance was almost struck again.

“Because it was not a long weekend, [there] was probably a few less people and the date change, a lot of people can’t plan for that date change, but I actually like this energy a lot,” he said.

“We didn’t push it at all in anywhere but remote communities … that’s what Barunga [Festival] is supposed to be, the community invites visitors in.”

weaving workshop
Festival attendees learn weaving from Barunga elders. (ABC Katherine: Roxanne Fitzgerald)

A succession of local NT bands took to the main stage across the three days, as MCs called musicians up for their slot and announced the winners of sport trophies in between sets – the by-product of a festival thin on staff running on ‘Barunga time ‘.

On Saturday night, singer and political activist Walmatjarri elder Kankawa Nagarra – who toured with Hugh Jackman in Broadway to Oz – opened the main stage concert delivering a string of songs that delved into a life of hardship as she moved from mission to mission.

A woman playing guitar on a stage at barunga festival.
West Australian political activist, singer and songwriter Kankawa Nagarra was a special guest at the festival. (ABC News: Max Rowley)

Then Salt Lake and Eylandt Band from Groote fired up the crowd.

A link to political past

Dissimilar to past years, where the rallying cries for action from leaders have been loud and fearless, it was quieter on the political front, leaving the festival’s roots in sport, music and culture to shine.

But at a festival steeped in political history, the past couldn’t be ignored.



Linda Burney flags Makarrata commission for truth and treaty is on the horizon

Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney has given the strongest indication yet that a truth and treaty process is in the works.

Speaking at the Garma Festival in north-east Arnhem Land, Ms Burney said the public should not forget that the Uluṟu Statement from the Heart was not only about a referendum.

“So many parts of this country [are] deciding how they’re going to explore the truth,” she said.

“When we think about the effect that a national truth-telling process would have on Australia, it’s remarkable.

“One of the things that we’re thinking about at the moment is what form that would take.”

“I see this as, you know, a thousand flowers blooming.

Large Aboriginal flag flying in sky with sunlight behind in city setting
The Uluru statement includes a First Nations’ Voice in the constitution, and Makarrata, referring to the process of conflict resolution, peacemaking and justice.(Getty Images: Trevor Collens)