• Being the only female group to make it to the finalists, the Djirri Djirri dancers fall short of the winning title back take home the Rights of Passage award. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Djirri Djirri Dance Group, the only women's group to make it to the finals, is acknowledged with a new award introduced this year.
Brooke Fryer

27 Nov 2018 - 12:23 AM  UPDATED 27 Nov 2018 - 9:38 AM

The only Victorian dance group to attend Dance Rites over the weekend was also the only all women's group to make it into the finals, and although they didn't take out the title, they were recognised with a new award. 

The annual competition is a two-day event held at the Sydney Opera House Forecourt that celebrates the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander First Nations culture through dance and song. This year saw 300 dancers across 14 different groups. 

Djirri Djirri Dance Group, which consists of Wurundjeri women from the Kulin nation, won the "Rights of Passage" award which comes with $4,000 in prize money.

The award celebrates the communication and cultural knowledge between one generation to the next.

The Djirri Djirri dance group, which formed in 2013, consists of women of all ages and incorporates traditional Woiwurrung language and clan markings into their routines. 

The group was named after the willie wagtail, a bird believed to have given the Wurundjeri people the art of dance. 

Their winning performance involved delicate movements and two young girls who sang in Woiwurrung alongside Mandy Nicholson, the leader of the group. 

Ms Nicholson told NITV news the dance the group performed in the finals was a combination of two routines.

"The first one is the Djirri Djirri, that represents the willie wagtail, he gave us our dance. Then we finished it off with the Buln Buln Ngarrga which is the lyrebird dance, that gave us language," she said.

Other prize winners 

The internationally acclaimed dance group, Nunukul Yuggera dance group, made up of traditional custodians of the Brisbane, Ipswich and Logan Regions, Stradbroke and Moreton Bay Islands and the Gold Coast took out the $20,000 top prize. 

The group started over 20 years ago and have since travelled the world showcasing Aboriginal culture through song and dance. 

Ashley Rusca, a member of the group, struggled for words after the win. "Just overwhelmed with everything. All the hard work has paid off." 

"I'm just happy to represent our mob, our people, up in Queensland, and happy to represent all our people across Australia," he said.

Mr Rusca said dance was important to represent and showcase culture because many languages have been forgotten.

A $5,000 runners-up prize went to the Meuram Murray Island Dance Group from the Meuram nation in the Torres Strait Islands.

Drummer, choreographer, singer and costume designer for the group, Obery Sambo, said the dance performed in the finals was inspired by the Meuram totem of the tiger shark," the boss" of the ocean around Murray Island.

The $3,000 Best Wildcard Dance award went to the Buuja Buuja Butterfly dance group from Wiradjuri Country. The award recognises how cultural dance fits in the 21st century. 


Rayma Johnson, a lead dancer in the group said their aim was to inspire others to be in touch with their community and cultural heritage. 

"I'm telling you, the power is in culture. That is what's going to stop the drug abuse, the alcohol abuse, the depression, the suicide. It is culture," said Ms Johnson. 

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