University supports 'pathways to our future' at 21st Garma Festival

Strong Gumatj bunggul leaves
Members of the Gumatj clan perform at the bunggul at the 2018 Garma Festival. Image: Melanie Faith Dove/Yothu Yindi Foundation

Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maskell will lead a University of Melbourne delegation to the 21st Garma Festival in Arnhem Land, a central component of the University’s commitment to national reconciliation with Indigenous Australians.

Associate Provost Marcia Langton and Pro Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous) Shaun Ewen are part of the University group joining Professor Maskell for the four-day festival, which begins on Friday 2 August.

This year the University is a principal sponsor of Garma and its Key Forum, which has become Australia’s leading policy conference on Indigenous affairs.

Attended by more than 2500 business, political, education and philanthropic leaders, key topics this year include constitutional recognition, economic development, funding for remote communities, health and education.

The University has a long relationship with the Yolngu people in northeast Arnhem land, which was formalised in 2015 through a partnership with the Yothu Yindi Foundation (YFF).

Professor Langton believes the benefits of this signature partnership lie in the exchange of knowledge.

“Our faculty members learn about the culture, ceremony and philosophy of this ancient culture and the University contributes its expertise to the Yothu Yindi Foundation vision of a strong future for Yolngu people,” Professor Langton said.

“Our presence at the Garma Festival aims to inspire our faculty and students to learn from this unique opportunity to stop, to listen, and to learn the wisdom so generously offered by traditional Yolngu elders.”

Professor Maskell said “Indigenous recognition is very important to our University and we’ll continue to honour and respect the peoples who have cared for and nurtured this land. We have so much to learn from cultures that have been here for tens of thousands of years and I will ensure that we work towards reconciliation with Indigenous Australians”.

The Chairman of the Yothu Yindi Foundation is Dr Galarrwuy Yunupingu AM. He interpreted for his father Mungurrawuy, the leader of the Gumatj clan in the Milirrpum v Nabalco case and is now widely regarded as the elder statesman of Indigenous leaders throughout Australia.

In 2015, the University of Melbourne conferred an honorary Doctor of Law honoris causa on Galarrwuy in recognition of his status as a law elder of the Gumatj clan, his leadership of Indigenous people and his example to all Australians.  It was marked by a Gumatj ceremony answered by the traditional University conferral ceremony on the Bunggul ground at Gulkula, bringing together the two cultures.

“Purposeful partnerships, like we have with the YYF, enable the purpose and mission of the University. Our deep engagement here across many areas allows us, as an institution, to learn much, and in return, to contribute some expertise,” Professor Ewen said.

The theme of this year’s Garma Festival is Garma’lili manapanmirri dhukarryarrany’dhun gudarr’wu, which means Pathways to our future in Yolngu Matha.

Professor Langton said: “At a time when constitutional recognition is front and centre of conversations at all levels of Australian society – from the highest level of government to the smallest community group on the local level – it’s more important than ever before that our conversations are steeped in a better and more informed understanding of Indigenous knowledges and the new perspectives they offer.’’

Three projects developed under this partnership involving the Melbourne School of Dentistry, the Melbourne Graduate School of Education and Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, will be presented at the Garma Key Forum.

The Key Forum also hosts the presentation of the annual Yolngu Heroes awards, which recognise outstanding leadership and achievement in the northeast Arnhem Land region.

The highlight of each Garma is at the bunggul – or ceremony ground – at Gulkula.

“Yolgnu history tells how people have danced at Gulkula ‘from the beginning’, and each afternoon during Garma the sound of the yidaki (didgeridoo) brings everyone together at the ceremonial bunggul or ceremony ground,’’ Professor Langton said.

“It’s here that the Yolgnu people tell their stories through traditional dance – sounds and movements that have been handed down through thousands of generations and that are inextricably linked to their land.’’