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GARMA Festival 2004 :   6th - 9th August

Garma website

GARMA didgeridoo festival - celebrating Yolngu Aboriginal culture.

The ancient sound of the yidaki (didgeridu) is a call to all people to come together in unity. The 4th annual Garma Festival was the largest and most vibrant celebration of the Yolngu Aboriginal people and culture in recent memory.

Regarded as one of Australia's most significant Indigenous festivals, the last Garma Festival attracted around 20 clan groups from North East Arnhem land, and representatives from other tribes and neighbouring Indigenous people throughout Arnhem Land and the Northern Territory.

The 2002 Garma Festival was held from 13 - 17 August at Gulkula, Gove Peninsula, North East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia.

Reflections from Garma Festival 2000

The following is mail from Mike Spencer-Harty (one of the participants of the Yidaki Master Class , taught by Djalu Gurruwiwi.) Mike did a good job describing the event, thanks Mike:

At the site I ran into a few names I knew - WB "hydrate or die" Thomas :) , Geoff Brown , Rio and Tai Olesky, Tim Lee, Stephen Kent, Peter Hadley, and a few I didn't. Two Swedish guy's Micka and Krista who were fun. A contingent from Japan, Janawirri Yiparrka, John Ayres and Tony Gintz (of Wandoo Didgeridoo) rolled up in his Toyota having DRIVEN there from the South.

Outback Australia, Arnhem land.We are talking a long way with much of it on dirt roads; coming from somewhere where people with four wheel drives sometimes park on the grass verges in carparks but never actually get their cars muddy, I was impressed. We all had hot little tents with Arctic weight sleeping bags, he has a big striped tarp, mosquito net, swag, solar power, battery lights, a tool box, a truck with GPS navigation and BIG speakers- he was prepared! This is one guy you would want to have with you in the Outback - had some good times in his company.

The first day was mostly setting up camp. An old timber A frame was extended and repaired to become a central shelter, this we surrounded by our little dome tents and after struggling with life threatening camp beds for a couple of hours we were well and truly drenched- IT WAS HOT!

A central canteen had been built a few hundred yards away staffed by several lovely ladies and the unforgettable Phil and Ron. Phil is a legend, a camp fire artiste, singer, guitar player and comedian and quite a good cook - I have it in writing (inside his book, "101 adventures that got me absolutely nowhere") that he "didn't piss in the stew!" Ron appeared to be Crocodile Dundee's dad.

We did get a little camp fire going but most were wiped out from travelling and the heat so it was an early night.

Dawn came at 6.30 am and by 7.30 it was too hot to stay in the tents - setting the scene for the rest of the week.

Monday was a relaxing day spent finding our feet - A trip out into the bush in Tony's Truck found about 7 of us swimming in a secluded waterhole, after checking it out for Crocs! Floating there, in Arnhemland, whilst people took it in turn to play one of Wandoo Didgeridoo's didj's on the bank, was a highlight of the trip.

Galarrwuy Yunupingu, Yothu Yindi Aboriginal music.

An evening welcome from Galarrwuy Yunupingu followed an hour of Aboriginal dance and the arrival of some mysterious Russians.

The following day we made our way to one of the shelters that had been erected round the central field and Djalu Gurruwiwwi introduced himself. Workshops ranged from awesome demonstrations by Djalu, his son Larry and Larry's "son" Sean. (Family relationships are recognised differently in Yolngu culture and from what we could gather Sean is probably Larry's Nephew), to Djalu saying a phrase and us repeating it, to playing a phrase and again us repeating it. Djalu, Larry and Sean were kind and incredibly patient, showing us time and time again without ever seeming to get frustrated at our lack of skill in this style of playing.

Looking for Yirdaki.Collecting bush honey.
Every day saw something new. Out in the bush following Djalu and his family we were shown how trees were selected for both Yiraki and Bilma (clapping sticks) - Djalu even at his age was wielding an axe and machete to fell perhaps six potential trees in a couple of hours, we also were pointed to Wild "Sugarbag" bees nests by Djalu's wife - I couldn't even see where the bees were supposed to be exiting the nest but the trees were felled and we sampled wild honey.

Playing didgeridoo on the beach in Arnhemland. A trip to the beach at Cape Arnhemland found us tasting Sea Turtle eggs from a nest on the beach, Djalu and Larry speared Mullet with frightening accuracy and Tony disappeared with a set of fins to return with a couple of crayfish. Miles and miles of white sand clear blue-green water and we were the only people there! We then spent a fantastic afternoon resting Yirdaki against the bonnet of a truck, Peter Hadley sitting on the hood almost conducting while Larry spoke rhythms and played some really inspiring stuff. The trip back was exhausting. Pushing a big 4x4 up a sand dune is not to be recommended - Pushing it up three times is, shall we say, "a little testing!"

A trip to Yirrkala Art centre was next - Will who works in the centre was with us all week, always insisting he knows nothing (despite living there for six years) then talking, seemingly without drawing breath for hours about Aboriginal Moiety, clans, culture and art.

Michael Christie, Aboriginal linguist. Thursday, and we had a lecture from Michael Christie, a consummate linguist who can speak perhaps six aboriginal languages and seems to have mastered the problems of pronunciation. Yolngu (and there's more than a few of you who will have pronounced that incorrectly!) use some unique tongue positions in their speech patterns - It follows that if you want to play in N.E. Arnhemland style it may be helpful to learn to find these positions, at will and quickly. It's not going to be easy! Some sounds are made with the tip of the tongue between the teeth, yet others with a retroflex and some with your tongue tip vertically behind the rougae. There is a site for Yolngu studies at:

NTU Yolngu Studies

There were tents all round the site for Language, medicines, women's business, men's business and an academic forum that were open and welcoming, I felt I would have liked to spend more time in some of these but was torn between these and the Yirdaki classes.

Bunggul, traditional Aboriginal culture.Each evening we were treated to traditional Bunggul, Brilliant dances, song bilma and Yirdaki playing, really enjoyable and great to see Yirdaki played in its traditional position within songlines. Speaking to Aboriginal people opened my eyes to the way they have been treated and in particular the way in which the international media chooses not to cover their side of the story. An evening spent by a campfire with Bert who was there for his nephews circumcision ceremony was an eloquent gentle explanation of what it was to be an Aborigine in modern Australia.

The last evening there was a concert by Yothu Yindi, where they played several tracks from the new Album Garma - They were using a carbon fibre Yirdaki! Good concert only slightly marred by the ever present media shoving cameras up peoples noses and asking the band to do several "Takes" - I suppose they are necessary BUT.... That brings me to one last comment - the contrast between walking from out campsite - leaving a small flickering campfire past the bloody great generator of the Media Camp with its satellite uplinks and air-con cabins with "Apple G4's" editing away was "interesting".

The whole atmosphere of the camp changed on the last day and not just because of people leaving - it really felt it was "time to go", the wind picked up and we left.

(All images © Wandoo Didgeridoo or Yothu Yindi Foundation)

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