• this year’s Walking with Spirits returns to Beswick Falls with an outstanding cultural celebration. Photo: Peter Eve (Supplied)Source: Supplied
One of Australia’s most spiritually significant Indigenous cultural festivals, Walking with Spirirts will return to Beswick Falls with a stellar line up to match.
Emily Nicol

6 Jun 2017 - 2:45 PM  UPDATED 16 Aug 2022 - 3:08 PM

When ARIA Award winning musician and composer David Bridie speaks about the town of Rabaul in Papua New Guinea, his respect for the people, land and culture is clear.

Home to the Tolai people, the mountainous town and it's inhabitants have experienced more than their fair share of unrest and turmoil. World War I and II, volcanic eruptions and missionaries seeking to decimate culture, to mention a few. In the face of adversity the Tolai have remained incredibly staunch.

It's a story that resonates throughout our own communities. It is this strength and resilience that Bridie has both captured and shared in his latest project, the highly acclaimed a Bit na Ta 'The Source of The Sea' -  a collaboration with long-time friend, singer George Telek and historian Gideon Kakabin, respected Tolai elders.

"Ceremony and custom is probably stronger now than it's ever been, which is quite amazing considering the attempts to wipe it out."

Bridie says the Tolai are people with a 'lot of resilience.' 

"Whilst economic indicators would say they are very poor, in fact,  because of the volcanic soil, with  their knowledge of gardening, and their culture being very strong - they’ve all got their language and their land," Bridie says.

"There are 30 different songs on the album and most of it is about the history in Tolai language. Ceremony and custom is probably stronger now than it's ever been, which is quite amazing considering the attempts to wipe it out."

The project is a rich multimedia experience which has been delivered as an installation in galleries and is now being performed live for the very first time.

This is a fitting headline act for the Walking With Spirits Festival a unique celebration of life and culture being held  at Malkgulumbu, (Beswick Falls), a treasured place on Jawoyn Land in Arnhem Land. Beswick Community is located 107km south-east of Katherine.

For the festival's 15th year, Artistic Director Tom E Lewis has invited not only local talent but artists from across the Pacific for what he says will be the most significant event so far.

"This time I’m inviting family from Fiji, New Zealand, PNG and Timor lands. We invite them to dance with us. We are opening up a world where we share country. We share our country because it’s our thing, it's our culture way to share."

The weekend will open on Friday evening with an intimate ceremony at Beswick’s Culture Centre, followed by the premiere screening of Festival Director Tom E Lewis' new short film Finding Mawiranga.

The film captures a journey back to country to rediscover Dhumbul, the Morning Star and will be accompanied by a dance performance from his Murrungun family. They're travelling all the way from Numbulwar to dance 'Dhambul' live, led by Djakapura Manyarryun, one of Arnhem Land’s leading Songmen.

"We’ve got to celebrate modern ways and we have to celebrate old ways too and keep the songs going."

The line up also boasts Yorta Yorta man Benny Walker, recently crowned the “Aboriginal Act of the Year” by MusicVictoria, North East Arnhem Land’s Rrawun Maymuru and Rako Pasefika from Fiji. 

Bridie has heard about the event for many years through fellow artists and is excited to be playing for the first time at the festival. 

"We are really excited..It's a phenomenal line up and on beautiful country."

Last year for the first time, the festival was held in a different location to give the special site a rest to retain it's spirit. The land has once again invited the celebration back to Beswick Falls in the Northern Territory, and Lewis is excited for the gathering to take place.

Lewis says it's important for these festivals to recognise the present and the past.

"We’ve got to celebrate modern ways, and we have to celebrate old ways too. And keep the songs going. The songs belong to our church. The church is our country and sacred sites are the altars of the land." 

Lewis describes the importance of dancing and singing on country not only for ourselves, but to remain connected to ancestors and mother earth.  

"We are very spiritual people. We have always lived on the ‘forgiving land’. We don’t own it. We belong to it, we dance to it with the birds and everything else. Human Beings are part of our Dreaming, Men and Women they are all part of our life cycle of our Dreamtime and we dance to them as well," he said.

"When you dance, all the worry and everything evaporates,that’s the magic in the dust."

"If we don’t dance and we don’t sing..imagine that you go to a church and there are no hymns sung anymore. Our hymns are our corroborree. When you dance, all the worry and everything evaporates,that’s the magic in the dust."

The gesture of dancing not only honours the earth but those that have come before, Lewis says.

"If you don’t dance there... all of them old people that are gone, they still listening in the ground, so you can’t dig it up, you gotta leave it.. They’ve been hurt," he explained.

"When we dance and our feet hit the ground, they listen - they go 'ohhh that songs still going'…it’s a deep connection of our families in the land not on the land- but In the land. It’s beautiful isn't it?"

Walking WIth Spirits Festival runs from 14-15 July. For all information and to book tickets head to Djilpin Arts website.

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