Arnhem Land & The Garma Festival in the Northern Territory

Written on Sunday, December 4, 2022 by

A few years ago while I was finishing my degree at RMIT I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attend the annual Garma Festival in Arnhem Land as a volunteer through the University (  The festival, which takes place annually in August, is a celebration of traditional culture established by the Yothu Yindi Foundation.

The aim of the festival is to discuss economic and educational opportunities for Indigenous Australians.  It’s also a platform for reconciliation through the sharing of cultural and traditional practice in a culturally safe environment.  I was extremely excited to be able to attend such an important and interesting event as well as being able to experience a part of Australia I’d never been to.  To get to Arnhem Land you first must fly to Darwin then catch a small aircraft connecting flight to Nhulunbuy (Gove).  From here we were picked up and taken to the site of the festival.  Perched upon an escarpment of stringybark trees the site possesses stunning views across the Gulf of Carpentaria.  The site was specifically picked as it is a very significant area to the local Yolngu people.  It is absolutely stunning.  Everyone sleeps in a tent, whether you’re a CEO or a volunteer and everyone is expected to line up for their meals, homecooked and served in the beautiful outdoor kitchen as well as for the showers and toilets.  Everyone is treated equally.   


The events of the days are very diverse & so interesting.  There’s spear making, guided bushwalks, Indigenous astronomy tours, a stunning outdoor gallery set among the towering gums, and visiting artists from nearby communities. The key forum hosts politicians, experts and leaders who discuss current Indigenous affairs and policies. Every evening the bunggul is performed which is an absolute highlight of the festival   The Yolngu term Bunggul refers to song, music and dance, which form a ceremony in central to eastern Arnhem Land.  Didgeridoos and other instruments are played while various tribes over different evenings showcase their ceremonial dances.  Everyone gets involved, even the little kids who are so cute copying their elders moves.   


If you have time it’s also worth leaving the Garma festival to take a look outside the campground to see some of beautiful Arnhem Land.  I had the opportunity to visit the Buku art complex at Yirrkala which has an amazing collection of bark paintings, carvings & artefacts as well as jewellery, clothing and more.  Some of the artists were in attendance while I was there and it was great to be able to chat to them directly about their work, what it means to them and the history behind it.  It was definitely a highlight.  After this we went on a tour of the local area and ended up at one of the gorgeous beaches.  The ocean does have crocs and signs warning you not to swim however a local advised us that we ‘should’ be ok at that particular time on that particular day!  We threw caution to the wind and jumped in for a very quick dip!  Such a lovely end to a beautiful afternoon touring this amazing region of Australia.  


This is a trip I’ll never forget.  I was presented with ideas and situations I’d never had the opportunity to experience before.  I saw parts of Australia that were breathtakingly beautiful.  And I met some of the most amazing people with such interesting stories.  I would definitely return and would recommend this type of trip and the Garma festival to everyone. 


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