16 August 2022

Rob Russell, National Director, Reconciliation shares his reflections on his experience at the Garma Festival.

Zeah Behrend, Jane French, Izzy Bellomo, Scott Ferguson and Rob Russell at Garma.

"I am a proud Gomeroi man from the Natty clan of the Namoi River region, and I couldn’t have felt more privileged and humbled last week when I attended the Garma Festival in north-east Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.  

"I’m privileged because I have insider knowledge into Aboriginal ceremony and ritual, and humbled because the festival reminded me of how little I know. "Garma is a wonderfully special celebration of the artistic, cultural, and ceremonial traditions of the Yolngu people. As Denise Bowden, CEO of the Yothu Yindi Foundation and Festival Director explains, 'Yolgnu People return to Gulkula for renewal and to replenish their thinking and their world view, so all of us should renew, rethink, relearn and replenish ourselves'." 

The festival gave me a genuinely meaningful insight into a way of life that has remained largely unchanged for thousands of years.

The festival also provides a vital platform for influential Australians to discuss the most pressing issues facing our communities. This year, the key topic of conversation was all about establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice in government by amending the Constitution.

Anthony Albanese, as Prime Minister of Australia, asked the attendees of the Garma Festival, “Do you support an alteration to the Constitution that establishes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice?”

"As a Gomeroi man, I was deeply moved by the large number of passionate and emotional responses of agreement. It was like blackfella music to my ears!*"

"Over the four days of the festival, I took every opportunity to be immersed in the Yolngu People’s traditions and culture. Every afternoon at 4pm the Bunggul Ceremonial Grounds came alive with an infectious energy. There was an abundance of graceful movement, natural expression, strong voices, and cultural knowledge. The creative flair was amazing and anchored in culture – and the performers from the Gumatj, Manggalili and Badu Island clans, were world-class.

"Later each evening, the Bunggul became the centrepiece for more contemporary (but equally impressive) musical offerings from the Stiff Gins, The Ripple Effect, Wildfire Munwurrk, Miiesha, Leah Flanagan and Gambirra MOB.

"I was really moved by my time at the Garma Festival, and as I reflect on my recent experience, it is the words of Djawa Yunupingu, Director of the Yothu Yindi Foundation, Chairman of Gumatj Corporation and senior Gumatj man, that echo most loudly in my ears, 'What is most important, is what you take away, and how then you live out what you have learnt or seen'."

* These words have been spoken, written, and approved by the author Rob Russell – National Director, Reconciliation, Life Without Barriers - a proud Gomeroi man from the Natty clan of the Namoi River region.

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