We had only found out about the Garma festival the previous day and managed to get entry to witness the biggest annual indigenous festival in the region, and in fact Australia. For four days the grounds are host to weaving demonstrations, jewellery and spear making demonstrations, arts and craft, many bands, ranging from local to well-known ones and much more. The main arena hosts demonstrations of local cultural song and dance from many different clans. Little shelters around the main arena provided focal points to observe the crafts. There was a didgeridoo store selling “raw” ones, and an expert was giving students tuition on how to make them.
Local Yirralka rangers demonstrated how to make spears, from the initial wood-straightening over a fire to the binding with wire of the metal tips. Hannah, Oscar and I watched a weaving demonstration, then proceeded to create our own pieces (pendant in my case because it was small).
The clan ceremonies performing next to the main stage were the most interesting. Each clan would take turns to showcase their dances, songs, and music, encouraging audience participation as the day progressed. Some dances were very similar across clans and it was great seeing the youngsters jump up and join in when they recognised a dance. We were invited to share a mat with some lovely ladies from one clan and one of their young girls coaxed Hannah up to join in the Emu dance, and Hannah happily joined the group trying to learn new dances. Taken under the wing of an older girl Hannah thoroughly enjoyed immersing herself and was oblivious to the huge crowd watching. It wasn’t long before many more followed her and even Amanda had a go.
An art gallery was secreted amongst the trees to one side, offering a temporary diversion. The kids were too nervous to enter the youth area unaccompanied though, which was a shame as it offered a wealth of activities from basic table tennis through to circus trick training and fun science activities brought from Questicon in Canberra.
The kids discovered a mine truck simulator provided and run by Rio Tinto, and after patiently waiting they each got to try driving around the virtual pit mine in a 20+ tonne mine truck.
Evening entertainment was provided by famous names such as Neil Murray and Emma Donovan and the Putbacks.
The indigenous culture is very strong in Arnhemland and it was great to see it thriving. Garma opened a window for the kids to see a very different way of life that exists in their own country and hopefully they will remember what they have seen, possible even return in the future to get a better understanding.