Singer Casey Donovan, the only artist to appear at more than one of the festivals

Posted by Jeremy Eccles | 27.09.13

Dates: 04.10.00 : 06.09.00

For a while, it seemed that Rhoda Roberts' pioneering efforts to establish the validity of the Indigenous arts via her wonderful Dreaming Festival in 1997 in the lead up to the Olympics had fallen on closed minds. It should have proved quite adequately to other festival directors that no Aussie festival could fail to include the Indigenous in its programming. But it rarely happened

Roberts herself tried again in Sydney and then again at Woodford in SE Queensland; but somehow it just didn't stick. Now she's having another try with surely her brightest effort to date. Having associated herself with the Folkies in Queensland, Roberts has now gone with the Blues and Roots types in Byron for the imminent Boomerang Festival.

Somehow, between 4th and 6th Oct, she's packing in a mass of stars – headed by Gurrumul himself, along with Archie Roach, Casey Donovan and Shelley Morris and a cultural program that extends from learning the Bundjalung language to hearing the likes of Yolngu elder Dijiniyini Gondara, academic Larrissa Behrendt and urban activist Gary Foley talking round the Fire Circle. Then there's Maori music and dance, Canadian film, a PNG Sing Sing, master story-teller Romaine Moreton and the up-and-coming Thelma Plum.

Tickets are certainly available at despite this commendation from none other than our Prime Minister: “A nation’s cultural depth is enhanced by the creativity it sees and encourages. The Boomerang Festival’s support for Indigenous artists and their work will ensure that many thousands of people, not only from Australia but also from around the world, can enjoy Australia’s immense creative talent”.

Tony Abbott could find himself busy if he's to offer his thoughts to every Indigenous festival currently planned! For, from none, we've suddenly leapt to four exclusive festivals. After Boomerang comes Mbantua in Alice Springs (9/13 Oct), then Corroboree in Sydney (14/24 Nov) and, just announced today, a South Australian Aboriginal Arts Festival planned for Spring 2015!

Interestingly, only Boomerang is attempting a national reach. Mbantua is prioritising the undoubted strengths of its locals, and has tapped into the Aboriginal Benefits Account for funding; both Corroboree and the SA plan are clearly State-sponsored projects, delimiting their horizons to their government boundaries. The South Australians have tapped BHP for $4m. as part of the Big Australian's deal to “recommit to South Australia” (in exchange for spending less than hoped at Olympic Dam?). Whether that's for multiple years or just 2015 is not clear; but SA Gallery curator Nici Cumpston will be in charge of a primarily visual arts event which will feature exhibitions, a curated Aboriginal art fair of work mainly from the APY lands, and a national symposium with collectors, exhibitors, academics and arts centres.

This came out of the blue, you might say, and could prove a Mecca for Aboriginal Art Directory readers. Mbantua, on the other hand has grown from the 2001 Yeperenye Festival in Alice which was co-directed by Nigel Jamieson and local girl Rachel Perkins. The 2001 event was an odd mix of strong traditional dance and music, and endless Aboriginal pop. This time the event is headed by an opera! It's the Opera Australia-associated Bungalow Song about the building in Alice which housed many a Stolen child – including, I suspect Charlie Perkins, father of Rachel. This is backed by art and dance from all over the Desert, something called Art in the Landscape, the veteran Warumpi band from Papunya and songstresses Jessica Moboy and Missy Higgins.

And finally the Sydney event over 11 days – Corroboree – headed by another of the Perkins girls, Hetti. This former art curator seems to have left the visual arts out of her event, apart from a paper installation at the AGNSW by the Euraba Papermakers from the State's North West. For the most part, though, Perkins is centring things off-shore on Pier 2/3 at Walsh Bay, which becomes Corroboree Central. There'll be a Black Arts Market, which will feature artisans from Regional NSW plus a selection of body products, bush remedies, homewares and fashion; the Corroboree Cinema, the Corroboree Club and the Corroboree Studio there; and just across the bay, Bangarra will bring in a new show choreographed by the women of its company.

Behind Perkins, a Council of Elders was formed to oversee the cultural governance of the festival. But judgement on the festival may well be made by its funders, Destination NSW, which expects Corroboree will deliver approximately $21 million in direct economic impact to the State over the next three years, with an expected 55,000 interstate, intrastate and international visitors attending.

I'd hate to think that there could be such a thing as excess in Indigenous festival-making. But I know that the first cab off the rank – Boomerang – has found it difficult to sell tickets, and it's Blues and Roots backer sees evidence of discrimination in that. Now, if only Boomerang was in Sydney???

URL: Boomerang Festival

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The Arakwal Dancers, preparing for performances at Byron Bay's Boomerang Festival


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