‘Look ahead towards the future’: Garma Festival back for 2022

Associate Provost, Professor Marcia Langton presenting at a previous Garma Festival.
University of Melbourne Associate Provost, Professor Marcia Langton will be joining the delegation to the 2022 Garma Festival held in North-east Arnhem Land. Image: Melanie Faith Dove, Yothu Yindi Foundation

The Garma Festival, Australia’s premier Indigenous event, returns this week after a two-year hiatus with the central theme of ‘Nhaŋa ŋathilyurra’, a Yolŋu phrase meaning to ‘Look ahead towards the future’.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Duncan Maskell will lead the University of Melbourne delegation at the four-day festival, which also includes Provost Professor Nicola Phillips, Associate Provost Professor Marcia Langton, staff and students.

A celebration of the cultural, artistic and ceremonial traditions of the Yolŋu people, the 22nd Garma Festival begins on Friday 29 July at Gulkula, a significant Yolŋu ceremonial site about 40 kilometres from Nhulunbuy in North-east Arnhem Land.

Professor Langton welcomed the Festival’s return after the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to the 2020 and 2021 editions.

“We are all looking forward to again joining the Yolŋu at Gulkula, the lands of the Gumatj clan, and to this opportunity to take the time to listen and learn the lessons they so generously offer at their festival,’’ Professor Langton said.

The University of Melbourne is a principal sponsor of Garma and its Key Forum, which has become Australia’s leading policy conference on Indigenous affairs. Around 2000 business, political, education and philanthropic leaders will debate key topics such as education, Voice, treaty and constitutional recognition and health.

The Festival comes amid Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s commitment to hold a referendum to enshrine a Voice in the Constitution for First Nations people. Mr Albanese will be attending this year’s Festival.

At the Key Forum University of Melbourne delegation members will present projects and research with Yolŋu collaborators.

One collaboration which gives the University great pride is the partnership between the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, the Yirrkala and Laynhapuy Homelands schools and the Indigenous community-controlled Mulka Centre.

Yolŋu educators Merrkiyawuy Ganambarr-Stubbs, Yalmay Yunupingu, Lombiŋa Munuŋgurr and Yananymul Munuŋgurr have partnered with Research Fellow Bernadette Murphy, and school leaders Haidee Dentith and Katrina Hudson to co-create and co-produce a set of cultural induction videos.

The most recent video has been designed to support Yolŋu team teachers in the classroom. Ms Ganambarr-Stubbs and Ms Murphy will present and show elements of the videos they have produced.

Professor Djangirrawuy Gumbula, a Yolŋu elder from Yirrkala, who recently joined the University of Melbourne as a Fellow of the Indigenous Knowledge Institute, will also speak at the forum. His cultural heritage work makes a vital contribution to advancing the University of Melbourne’s engagements with Yolŋu people over nearly a century.

During the festival, guests are immersed in the rich cultural heritage of Yolŋu hosts, experiencing traditional ceremonies rich with elaborate manikay (songs), buŋgul (dances) and miny'tji (designs).

“The Garma Festival provides a unique and important opportunity for our staff and students attending to learn about the culture, ceremony and philosophy of the ancient culture of the proud and powerful Yolŋu people,’’ Professor Langton said.

Professor Maskell said he is looking forward to returning to the Festival for the first time since 2019.

“The Garma Festival remains one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had since I came to Australia,” Professor Maskell said.

“It is a unique cultural event that provides a greater understanding of the many challenges faced by Indigenous Australians. Indigenous recognition is very important to the University of Melbourne and we are deeply committed to strengthening our relationship with Indigenous Australia.”

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

“The festival gives our researchers the opportunity to strengthen existing relationships and create new ties with our partners in North East Arnhem Land, helping create a strong future for Yolŋu people and promote the ways in which Indigenous knowledges can create a better country for all,’’ Professor Langton said.