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What to look out for as Garma Festival returns to Northern Territory after two-year COVID hiatus

Callan Morse -

After a prolonged absence due to COVID-19, the Northern Territory's Garma Festival will return at the end of the month for the first time since 2019.

First held in 1999, the festival has grown to be the largest annual celebration of Indigenous miny'tji (art), ancient story-telling, manikay (song) and bunggul (dance) culture in Australia.

Held over four days in north-east Arnhem Land, the event showcases the cultural, artistic and ceremonial traditions of the Yolngu people.

There is a particular focus on the practise, preservation, maintenance and presentation of traditional knowledge systems, cultural traditions and practices in a contemporary environment, and its sharing between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Non-for-profit foundation Yothu Yindi facilitates the event, with the aim to promote cultural development within community leaders from the five regional clan groups that make up the Yolngu nation, those being Gumatj, Rirratjingu, Djapu, Galpu and Wangurri.

Traditional dancing being performed at a previous Garma Festival.

Yothu Yindi foundation chief executive Denise Bowden said the return of Garma provided an opportunity to acknowledge the successes of the Foundation's education work, and for friends and families from all around the country to reconnect with one another.

"There's always a lot of excitement in the air ahead of Garma, but it feels extra special this year after so much time apart," she said.

"Our art centres are bursting at the seams with new work to share with our guests, and local bands and musicians are jumping at the chance to get back onstage and perform again."

Garma's key and youth forums will provide guests with the opportunity to hear from Indigenous entrepreneurs, cultural leaders, professors and doctors of Indigenous culture as well as community, corporate and government leaders, educators, students, and artists.

Participants at Garma 2019.

Each afternoon until sunset a highly significant traditional ceremonial dance known as a bunggul will be performed, where men, women and children and their clan group perform a dance unique to north-east Arnhem Land.

Traditional practices of the Yolngu culture will be offered through a plethora of cultural workshops.

Attendees will be able to choose from a wide variety of subject matters and activities such as education classes on Yolngu Matha language, education classes on kinship systems, pandanus basket weaving, cross-hatching and painting, spear making and more.

Garma will also be rich in First Nations music, film and art culture with live musical performances, evening Indigenous film screenings and a "Gapan Gallery" of outdoor artworks on display.

All Garma Festival revenues are directed into projects to support the Foundation and the Arnhem region.

This year's Garma Festival will be held from July 29 to August 1 at Gulkula, about 1000km from Darwin by road on the Territory's Grove Peninsula.

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