A weekend of deadly dancing united mob from across the country to weave a tapestry of the diverse cultures that live and breathe in First Nations Peoples and communities.

Finishing off its fifth year, the national First Nations dance competition Dance Rites saw an audience spill across the steps of the Sydney Opera House and down onto the Forecourt across November 23 and 24.

Over 350 dancers from 17 dance groups performed their traditional welcome, farewell and ‘wildcard’ dances. Muggera Dancers, of the Mununjali and Yugambeh nations, took home first place and won $20,000 in funding.

Muggera Dance member, Darren Compton, a Yugembeh, Munanjali/Minjunbal, Gamilaraay and Mer Island man said the funding will enable the dancers to keep teaching.

“We are going to invest some of the money back into company … we only have a little shed in my backyard and a few little tools so we are going to build that up so we can keep practising our cultural ways making our spears, doing all that stuff the proper way,” Mr Compton said.

Crying with joy when they were announced, Mr Compton recalled it as one of his proudest moments.

“I was so proud of our group, where we come from and where we’re going. We had three generations of my bloodline there dancing in that circle there yesterday.”

“The most important thing is to keep our kids watching and learning. Watching my son yesterday, I know our culture is in safe hands for the next generation,” Mr Compton said.

“I want to thank everyone who brought us there to that moment yesterday, it if wasn’t for them we wouldn’t be here.

“Those are the ones who kept and who trusted us with that knowledge and the songs, lore and paint up. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here.”

Mr Compton said being able to make connections with mob from all over Australia was something special.

“We were very, very thankful that Uncle Reggie, one of the Elders from Uluru … a custodian out there … said, ‘Young fullas, keep doing what you’re doing,’ and that there was more powerful than the win. Getting that respect from our Elders, telling us what we are doing is right.”

Darug singer-songwriter and Wagana Dance-troop songwoman, Jacinta Tobin agreed, saying that for her, it wasn’t about the competition but about coming together.

“We are catching up with people and building a stronger relationship so we can do cross-cultural learning … It is lovely because it is mob with mob,” Ms Tobin said.

“We are just who we are, there is no need to pretend to be somebody you’re not, our story is our story and we are okay with that.”

The festival highlighted the diversity and range of cultures that live within First Nations communities.

“That was my favourite part of the whole festival, mob from all over Australia got to showcase their songlines, their lore, their language, their paint-up, their kinships – all of that,” Mr Compton said.

“Showing tourists … they got to walk away knowing, and seeing with their own eyes that we’re not all the same.

“We all are different, our languages are different, our songs are different, the way we do our dancing is different and that is powerful within itself. That is why I love Dance Rites, because it gets to showcase that diversity between our language groups, nations, clan groups.”

Ms Tobin hopes that this showcase of diversity will push Australia forward as a nation.

“Culture is alive and well, we are growing … We are not just all the same, you can tell from the dancing. All very different dances, it’s like saying France, come into Germany because you are all European, so you must all do the same thing,” she said.

“It is time that we walk forward as Australians.”

By Rachael Knowles