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South Coast’s Giiyong Festival celebrates First Nations creatives

Phoebe Blogg -

Recognised as the largest multi-arts Aboriginal cultural festival in the Yuin Nation, this year's Giiyong Festival celebrated and shone a light on a diverse range of First Nations creatives.

Event organisers, South East Arts, along with partners Twofold Aboriginal Corporation and Eden Local Aboriginal Land Council have been continuously overwhelmed and elated by the positive feedback received regarding the festival held on 8 November.

With Giiyong meaning 'come to welcome' in the NSW south coast languages as spoken by Elders. Giiyong Festival strived to celebrate traditional and contemporary Aboriginal culture as well as live music, dance, food, demonstrations and immersive activities.

Receiving almost 2,500 attendees to the event, the program spanned across three zones which included performances from Emma Donoavan, Radical Son and J-MILLA, as well as contemporary violin virtuoso Eric Avery. Local performances from up and down the south coast also took to the the Aunty Rose Mumbulla-Stewart Stage, MCd by comedians Sean Choolburra and Steph Tisdell.

Festival director Jazz Williams, of South East Arts, said Giiyong Festival is "a crucial event for our region and encourages people to value Aboriginal artists and the rich Cultural history and activity across the Yuin Nation".

"The privilege of being so warmly welcomed and immersed in Culture is not lost on audiences. Entertainment, education, reconciliation, economic impact - Giiyong provides it all and deserves investment. South East Arts has secured multi-year funding and will produce Giiyong Festival in 2024 and 2025, with continued support from our partners."

Behind the scenes at Giiyong Festival 2023. (Image: David Rogers)

With a variety of cultural demonstrations performances and more, several attendees and performers claimed that this year's festival was the best Aboriginal cultural festival they have ever attended.

During the festival, the Aunty Beryl Cruse Stage, in the Moneroo Bobberrer Gudu Keeping Place, hosted important conversations and presentations from Ellen van Neerven, Kirli Saunders, Steph Tisdell and Professor Asmi Wood. The most popular discussion on the day was the panel presentation, chaired by Clarence Slockee and featuring Uncle Noel Butler, Kerrie Saunders and Chef Mark Olive, on the topic of food sovereignty.

Several performers, including Eric Avery and Mudjingaal Yangamba Choir, also sang in the traditional languages of their people. In the Aunty Tina Bobbins Ganya, or camp, and in the Bunaan Ring, audiences were packed up to ten deep to witness some of the best traditional dance groups from across the Yuin Nation in NSW.

Over the span of the evening four dance groups - Duurunu Miru, Gumaara, Gadhu and Djaadjawan - came together for Dhilwaan Yarrkural (Nightfall Dance) - a moving performance that sent the dust flying and is being heralded as the highlight of the 2023 festival.

Throughout the day, the festival also hosted multiple traditional and contemporary cultural demonstrations and presentations including dance and didgeridoo demonstrations, cooking with Chef Mark Olive, weaving with Amanda Reynolds, traditional stone tool making with Shane Herrington, artefacts from the Australian Museum, native grains from Black Duck Foods, Aunty Aileen's Yam Hut and Uncle Pirate's pyrography.

The Festival further featured the special premiere of the Giiyong Gumleaf Band's music video for their 'Giiyong Song', composed by Wayne Thorpe. The Giiyong Gumleaf Band was a unique project developed for the 2022 Giiyong Festival, led by Uncle Ossie Cruse of Eden.

Dancers performing at Giiyong Festival 2023. (Image: David Rogers)

This year Giiyong Festival welcomed over 70 volunteers from across the community. Providing vital support to the small festival team, the volunteer's contribution was significant in ensuring the festival ran smoothly across all sectors.

With this year's event having been such a success, the hype surrounding the 2024 festival has already begun.

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