• Yabun Festival 2015 (Michelle Lake Photography)Source: Michelle Lake Photography
From humble beginnings in the early 2000s, Yabun Festival has become a highly anticipated annual gathering.
Emily Nicol

24 Jan 2018 - 4:29 PM  UPDATED 24 Jan 2018 - 4:30 PM

Yabun is a major Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander festival in Australia's calendar, celebrating the survival of culture, showcasing the very best Indigenous talent in music and dance and facilitating some of Indigenous Australia's best thinkers and speakers. Held on Survival Day - 26 January - it brings together leadership, community and change. 

Meaning 'song with a beat' in the local Sydney Gadigal language, Yabun was established by Gadigal Information Service (GIS) which is home to Koori Radio. It was set up as a continuation of the Survival Day events held during the 1990s at La Perouse and Waverley Oval. The mission of such events was to hold something on Australia Day that is seen as  'as a celebration of the survival of Aboriginal people, our cultures and spirit, in honour of all who have fought for our right to exist.'

After the original Survival Day event folded, GIS took over organising the festivities with the help of the Australia Council and intented to produce an event by the community, for community.

Re-named and re-branded, with the same mission as the historic Survival Day concerts, the first 'Yabun' was held at Waverley Oval in Bondi. The concert's first line-up was the comedic debut of now stand-up veteran Sean Chooburra and Leah Purcell as MCs and featured performances by Shakaya, the Stiff Gins, Glen Skuthorpe, the Black Turtles and country music legend, the late Uncle Jimmy Little headling.

Moving to Redfern Park and now to it's home in Victoria Park since 2002, the festival has evolved with the community and it's needs.

Yabun Festival Director, Miah Wright says that over the years the event has grown and changed not only in size but audience diversity. 

"In the beginning, Yabun was an opportunity for the Aboriginal community to come together and celebrate First Nations people’s survival, and was seen as a large, free community gathering to catch up socially with relatives and friends. Since those first events, the festival has grow in proportion to it's audience, swelling in size and now attracting crowds of around 35,000 people and a sharp increase in the number of non-Aboriginal and international visitors on the day."

Starting with just music and dance, the program has now expanded to include and address important issues. A 'Speak Out' tent featuring panels with field leaders and community members discussing the most important topics affecting First Nations peoples. Speakers such as Bruce Pascoe, Marcia Langton and Hon. Linda Burney have all been a part of popular panel discussions that focuses on where we would like to see change happen. Today, the 'Speak Out' tent has become so popular the venue fills up quickly and festival go-ers have found it hard to get a seat! 

The need to have a dedicated event such as Yabun for not only the Indigenous community, but non-Indigenous and tourists alike is clear in the attendance numbers. And with this growth comes the support of corporates, philanthropists and external companies have helped to facilitate the growing festival that it is. 

A more recent addition to the Yabun program is dance, which has seen a big revival in recent years with similar events such as Dance Rites, reinvigorating communities to share songs, stories, music and language. The Corroboree Ground showcases 10 community dance groups, many of which travel from across the state, and is one of the most popular stages at Yabun.

With the expansion in the programming and audience size, Yabun retains it's founding goal which was to provide a space for family and community to come together and re-connect, for some after many years apart and in some cases find family they have never met.

Wright says that Yabun will always remain an event that has it's community needs as it's focus and if the date of Australia Day changes, "We will look to our community to see what they want to do and will follow that lead."

Yabun Festival is on Friday, 26 January 10.00am - 7.00pm at Victoria Park, Camperdown for more information head to their website. Check out the Yabun 2017 highlights On Demand.

Join NITV for a week of programming which showcases the strength, courage and resilence of our people. #AlwaysWillBe starts Monday, 21 January on NITV (Ch. 34)


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