CULTURAL: Scenes from this year’s Laura Dance Festival.
CULTURAL: Scenes from this year’s Laura Dance Festival. Traci Williams

New way to keep oldest culture alive

ABORIGINAL people have been telling the story of their culture through dance, art and music for tens of thousands of years but it's only in the last few decades that indigenous cultural festivals have emerged as one of the most important ways to showcase - and in some cases even revive - many aspects of Aboriginal culture that were for years forbidden.

Such indigenous cultural festivals provide a platform for Aboriginal people to step up, grow their profile, show their pride and share the richness of their culture and knowledge with the rest of Australia and the world.

"Festivals are a vital component for our longevity as the longest living race," says Rhoda Roberts, Bundjalung woman and director of the new and local Boomerang Festival.

Ms Roberts brings 17 years experience directing the Dreaming Festival and recently the Garma Festival in Arnhem Land to this world festival for all Australians being held in Byron Bay at the Bluesfest site from October 4-6.

"If we don't have festivals, (we won't have) the continuance of our oldest culture, through stories, music and dance. Even if it is contemporary dance, we are still connected to those ancient footprints.

"If we don't continue it, I can guarantee in 30 years we won't have it.

"Festivals - no matter where they are, whether they are commercial or grassroots, there's an essence of wellbeing, of gathering, where it's not for Sorry business."

The recent Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival is a case in point.

Held in June each year outside Laura in Far North Queensland, it draws people from across Australia and the world, for a shared cultural experience - focused on the traditional dances of Aboriginal communities from the Cape York region.

"It's about connection to country, a connection to place and to ourselves," says Marilyn Miller, Laura Festival director.

"We are always hearing that Australia has no culture, but Aboriginal culture is probably the oldest living culture in the world.

"I think non-indigenous people are seeking some connection to that and when they can come on Country where these cultural activities take place they feel included and as though they have some kind of valid connection to Australia."

And the Boomerang Festival will provide just that experience right here in the Northern Rivers.

Not only does it include Australia's indigenous performers, but also a vast array of First Nation performers from the Pacific, Canada and Europe presenting music, talks, art and film.

"The difference here is you are connecting with First Nations. The intergenerational exchanges and the kinship programs will show you how diverse it is but also how it's us. These are the First Peoples of Australia and the world," says Ms Roberts.

"To watch someone tell their stories with such generosity and honesty when there has been so much pain and resilience, you see people empowered and you give them a sense of purpose and place. That to me is incredible.

"One of the great things about us as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is generosity.

"Every time I see people just giving and giving information, it's because they know at the end of the day, the reality of our people is that we are simply custodians. We don't own the land, we are custodial keepers. If everyone knows and understands those obligations, then this nation will be so much richer with its resources and with its humanitarian approach."

"Connect with us and you see the point of difference and you see what is so unique to this country."

Boomerang Festival:

Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm

October 4-6.

For the full line-up and ticketing information head to


  • Traci Williams works for Boomerang Festival

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