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Ballardong Elder slams Wave Rock Weekender music festival

Rhiannon Clarke -

Farley Garlett, a respected elder of the Ballardong community, has strongly criticised the Wave Rock Weekender music festival in Western Australia.

He expressed his disappointment and disapproval towards festival-goers who engaged in excessive drinking and partying on and around the sacred 2.7-billion-year-old Wave Rock.

The Wave Rock Weekender is an annual music festival that showcases alternative music and spans over four days in the town of Hyden, located in the West Australian Wheatbelt region, around 300 kilometres east of Perth.

Over the years, the festival has featured notable performances by artists such as Spacey Jane, Stella Donnelly, and San Cisco. While the event primarily takes place in the caravan park, it also extends to the magnificent 15-metre-tall granite formation, which is a significant part of the festival's allure.

However, the rock that is frozen in the shape of a wave holds great cultural and spiritual significance to the Aboriginal community. It is surrounded by ancient Aboriginal rock art, artefacts, and sacred caves.

Respected elder of the Ballardong community Farley Garlett.

(Image: Hugh Sando: ABC)

It is Known as Katter Kich and it's considered sacred due to the Dreaming stories associated with the area.

During the recent Wave Rock Weekender, Mr Garlett, who is chair of the Ballardong Cultural Heritage Committee responsible for the Hyden area, expressed his discontent with the event.

Mr Garlett was present in town during the festivities and his observations left him dissatisfied.

"I saw [festival-goers] all running around there drinking and carrying on … I was thinking to myself then that this was going to be chaos later in the night and it was," Mr Garlett told the ABC.

The festival's authorised zone and main performance are not situated on Wave Rock (Katter Kich), but the festival supports individuals gathering outside of this zone for the "sunset experience".

During this experience, people drink on top of the rock while watching a light show it. However, these activities have caused distress and emotional pain to Mr Garlett.

Aboriginal rock art near Hyden. (Image: Briana Fiore: ABC)

"You could see what was going to happen, the numbers were there," he said.

"The security guards were standing around, they were just watching for people not parking right, fighting, probably important to white fellas but not blackfellas."

He said Wave Rock/Katter Kich and the surrounding art needed to be protected.

"This belongs to not only us Aboriginal people, and it is significant, but it's also part of the white race too, that's their ownership too, so they need to protect this stuff and show some respect as well," said Mr Garlett.

"We don't go climbing on their churches, we show respect and we ask for them to do the same thing."

However the Festival organisers Paul Sloan, who is the managing director of Supersonic Australasia, has defended the event.

Mr Sloan told the ABC his company had been consulting with the Collard family over Indigenous cultural issues for the past 18 years.

Party goers at The Wave Rock Weekender.(Image: Wave Rock

Weekender: Facebook)

"In addition to the Welcome to Country and smoke ceremony, the Collards stay at the festival for many hours after the festival each year to talk to patrons and share knowledge and stories," Mr Sloan said.

Mr Sloan, a WA Music Hall of Famer and producer of the Falls Festival in Fremantle, noted the Wave Rock Weekender audience's exceptional respect compared to regular tourists.

"The Wave Rock audience is one the most respectful and conscious festival audiences I have worked with around the world," said Mr Sloan.

Mr Garlett expressed his dissatisfaction with the situation, stating that a Welcome to Country did not imply approval of alcohol consumption on the rock later in the evening.

He also pointed out that the Elders were unlikely to stay up late enough to witness such behaviour due to their age.

Wave Rock festival attendees participating in aerobics.(Image: AWOL: Facebook)

In response to this feedback, Mr Sloan confirmed that his company would consult with the Collards and implement any necessary changes.

Additionally, the festival had been seeking input from other relatives due to illness within the family.

Despite Mr Garlett's call for festival organisers to undergo cultural awareness training, attendees who spoke to the ABC claimed they were unaware of the area's sacred significance and expressed remorse for any unintentional offence caused.

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