• The Sydney Festival is showcasing Indigenous performing arts talent from the 7th to the 29th of January. (Sydney Festival/Instagram)Source: Sydney Festival/Instagram
With Wesley Enoch, a Noonuccal Nuugi playwright from Minjeribah (Stradbroke Island), at the helm as Director, Sydney Festival 2017 is once again putting a spotlight on Indigenous stories and performance.
Karina Marlow

12 Jan 2017 - 4:39 PM  UPDATED 12 Jan 2017 - 5:18 PM

Through the Festival, Wesley Enoch hopes to tell some of the conversations between Indigenous people and wider Australia, from the first words spoken between Eora woman Patyegarang and Lieutenant Dawes through to the language of the 1967 referendum.

“Understanding country through language is a first step and witnessing untold stories is another,” he said. “Much of Indigenous storytelling is about remembrance and sharing…”

In his Festival address Enoch acknowledges the role of the traditional owners of Sydney and their contemporary counterparts: “The 29 clans of the Eora are custodians of this land, which we acknowledge through the commitment of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council and the many elders both past and present who work tirelessly to make Sydney a safe, respectful place to live.”

“Sydney is a place with over 60,000 years of history. This beautiful city that sits amongst the rivers, harbour and ocean, shares an Aboriginal lineage that goes back before time and now stretches to the skies.”

The Festival, which began on the 7th of January and runs until the 29th includes a mix of public and ticketed events across the arts; from music to theatre, dance and visual arts.

Bayala: Let’s Speak Sydney Language

One of the centerpieces of the Festival is a series of language revival efforts championed by Eora and Darug community elders and language experts. It includes the public reading of Patyegarang’s words, as recorded in the journal of Lieutenant Dawes, on the site where they were first spoken at Tar-ra (Dawes Point Park).

A series of language classes will run at both the State Library of NSW and Parramatta, with a rare exhibition of historic Sydney language items also on display at the Library. The language revitalization will culminate in ‘Baraya: Sing up Country’, a public language lesson and choral performance held at Barangaroo on the 26th of January.

Public Forums

The Festival will be partnering with UTS to deliver the UTS Big Thinking Forums focusing on language, history and dance to explore issues of Indigenous culture.

“Sydney Festival happens at a time when you're thinking about the year ahead as if it was a blank sheet,” Festival Director Wesley Enoch said.

“This is a time to embrace big ideas and important thinking, to consider how you want to spend your time in this city, how you engage with the world and how you connect with world cultures.”

“Working with UTS and our other partners to deliver these forums gives people a chance to touch base with some of the brightest cultural thinkers around topics of national and international importance.”


The Festival marks the premiere of Aboriginal playwright Nathan Maynard’s work ‘The Seasonfeaturing an all-Indigenous cast. The play follows the Duncan family living on Dog Island in the Bass Strait during the mutton bird harvesting season.

All Indigenous stars perform in The Season at Sydney Festival 2017
Emerging Palawa playwright Nathan Maynard has delivered a work of substance in his first major production The Season. Director Issac Drandich has high praise for Nathan's work comparing his writing sensibilities to the legendary playwright Jack Davis.
A father and daughter's journey comes to life
It’s a long way from the wide streets and big old houses of Tash’s childhood. Two Black faces in a very white suburb. Dad still thinks he’s the king of cool, but he’s an old fella now. It’s time for Tash to take him home.

A modern-comedy about a family road-trip ‘Which Way Home’, which features a father and daughter reconnecting with each other and the past, will play at the Belvoir St Theatre. The ‘Yellamundie: National First Peoples Playwriting Festival’ will also be held at the end of January and offer a chance for audiences to catch new and distinctive voices in Australian theatre.


'Blood on the Dance Floor' offers a rich and unapologetic glimpse into the life of Aboriginal choreographer, dancer and writer Jacob Boehme who, when diagnosed with HIV, reaches out to his ancestors for answers. Delivered in a powerful physical monologue, Jacob explores the legacy and memory embedded in our bloodlines and the human need for community and connection.

Drop in to the public rehearsals of 'Burrbgaja Yalirra: Dancing Forwards', a three-year mentorship program which supports intercultural dancers from NSW and WA. 


Conceptual artist Vernon Ah Kee's work 'Not an Animal or a Plant' marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum with a thought-provoking portrait of black and white political issues, attitudes and ideologies. From masterful drawings of his forebears to text-based installations, paintings and three-dimensional works, Ah Kee weaves together the history and language of colonisation to expose degrees of underlying racism in contemporary Australian society.


A one-off concert will also commemorate the referendum with a stellar line-up including Leah Flanagan, Dan Sultan, Radical Son and Thelma Plum taking to the stage at the Opera House Concert Hall. '1967: Music in the Key of Yes' is a concert of remembrance and gratitude to those who fought for civil rights and celebrates the soundtrack of an era.

The Sydney Festival runs from the 7th to the 29th of January, at venues across Sydney.