Take a look: Barunga Festival turns 30

Tuesday, 09 Jun 2015

This year’s Barunga Festival saw thousands descend on the tiny community of Barunga (population 300), some 400 kilometres south of Darwin. More than half of those made the pilgrimage from interstate to attend, a nod to the Festival’s reputation as a family-friendly, community-oriented, sports, lifestyle and musical event.

This anniversary year Paul Kelly and Gurrumul were joined by Sammy Butcher and Neil Murray of the Warumpi Band, B2M from the Tiwi Islands, roots musician Manuel Dhurrkay (Saltwater Band), Briggs and many more.

Briggs’ collaboration with Gurrumul on a sequel to Archie Roach’s ‘Took the Children Away’ was a highlight of the Australian music scene last year. Coincidentally, the weekend’s announcement that Archie Roach had been given a Member of the Order of Australia from the Queens Birthday Honours List was a delight for festival organisers in this anniversary year.

“The Festival reunites family members and countrymen from all over the Top End and welcomes tourists to experience NT community life for the weekend,” says Festival Director, Mark Grose of Skinnyfish records, who has been coordinating Barunga for three years. 

Barunga Festival 2015

“For the artists and the wider Barunga community it is also a priceless opportunity to experience musical performance. The Barunga Beats program we have in schools in the lead up the Festival sees the kids attending even on non-school days. They can’t get enough of it.

“The APRA AMCOS acoustic stage at the festival is a special feature. Performing on this stage really draws our young musicians out of their comfort zone and we see some amazing talent shine through,” Mark said. 

For triple j’s Maggie Collins, Barunga was something she had wanted to attend her whole adult life, “It was so different to my normal fast-paced, music-at-a-glance world, I was able to immerse myself in the Barunga experience. Joining in the traditional dance on day two, although scary, was a hell of a feeling. Although I had come across Tjupi Band and East Journey through my work, I was able to discover some new music and get a greater understanding of the distance and technology challenges these remote musicians face in getting their sounds and stories out.”

Adrian Basso of Melbourne’s Progressive Broadcasting Station (PBS) was also touched by the experience, “The all-star collaborators were a nice reflection of the sharing, love and goodwill felt constantly throughout the festival. I will look back on this weekend as a time of learning about the wonderful traditions and contemporary story telling as well as insight into a beautiful way of life. It is something I will treasure, respect and nurture always.”

In its early years, the festival ignited broad national interest, not just from the music media. In the 1988 bicentennial year, Galarrwuy Yunupingu and Wenten Rubuntja presented the Barunga Statement of Aboriginal political objectives to Bob Hawke, who was attending the festival. The statement (or treaty) was then signed by Bob Hawke, but never brought before Parliament.

This significant event informed the worldwide hit ‘Treaty’ (1991) which saw Paul Kelly, Gurrumul and others craft the Yothu Yindi hit which made it to APRA AMCOS’ ‘top 30 songs of all time’ in 2001.

Barunga is still a draw card for politicians of all persuasions. Attending this year were Adam Giles, Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Warren Snowdon, Federal Member for Lingiari and Nigel Scullion, Minister for Indigenous Affairs.

For the past four years APRA AMCOS initiative InBound has headed to Barunga. The InBound program is an exchange between the mainstream music industry and remote community artists. It is designed to bring industry people to remote communities to experience, understand, appreciate and hopefully advocate for remote community music and musicians and to bring those experiences into their own work.

“Without doubt, Barunga is one of the most humbling experiences I’ve ever had. Aboriginal communities from across the Territory sharing a common camp with those of us from much further afield. Not a lot of common language, but great warmth and welcome. Barunga is what I think a festival should be – sport, art, music, dance and the sharing of stories and culture. Sharing the experience with our InBound guests made it all the richer – realising our limited understanding of Aboriginal culture and community, sharing food, laughs and music around our campfire,” said Dean Ormston, Head of Member Services Group, APRA AMCOS.

Jonathan Holloway, Artistic Director, Melbourne Festival agreed, “… one of the most memorable Festival experiences I’ve ever had.  The chance to see a wide range of music performed on traditional land in a rural community was a true honour… it’s a “festival” in the true community context - of music, sport, food, culture, medicine and creative pursuits. Anyone who is offered the chance to go should jump at it."

Damian Trotter, Managing Director of Sony/ATV Music Publishing was also inspired by the immersion.  "With a gap of 20 years since my last trip to Barunga and in spite of the still obvious challenges faced by our first Australians, particularly those in remote areas, I was struck by how far things had progressed on so many levels up there. The Inbound program of immersing artists and professionals from the big metropolitan centres into a more remote community such as this, gives those attendees a rare insight into a part of the country and indigenous culture that so few of us would otherwise ever get to experience first-hand."

"We are very proud of how the Inbound partnership with APRA AMCOS has been developing over the last 4 years and to experience it again first hand was phenomenal. We were truly touched by the way in which our Inbound guests opened themselves up to new experiences and all that Barunga has to offer, we returned home very inspired. It has to be said that the 30th anniversary of the Barunga Festival was first class in it's capacity to allow us all to engage with remote Indigenous community and all that it offers from music to sport, art and culture, the key elements to any thriving community in Australia," said Danielle Caruana and Stacia Goninon, Director and Manager of The Seed Fund.

Inbound is funded by APRA AMCOS and delivered in partnership with The Seed.


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