• Members of the Gumatj clan prepare for their traditional dance at the Garma Festival in Arnhem Land in 2019. (YOTHU YINDI FOUNDATION)Source: YOTHU YINDI FOUNDATION
The festival's site is deemed too remote for the event to go ahead safely should a COVID-19 outbreak occur.
31 May 2021 - 3:39 PM  UPDATED 31 May 2021 - 3:47 PM

Garma Festival has been cancelled for the second year in a row after concerns of a potential COVID-19 outbreak at the event's remote Gulkula site prompted the NT's chief health officer to determine it posed too great a health risk. 

The Youth Yindi Foundation (YYF), the organisation behind the annual cultural event, said it accepted the decision with "enormous regret and sadness".

"Keeping the region COVID-free has always been the Yothu Yindi Foundation's number one priority," it said in a written statement on Monday morning.

"We accept the Chief Health Officer ’s decision, which also highlights the logistical and infrastructure challenges that exist in relation to any COVID outbreak in the remote Aboriginal world."

The YYF had planned to have a 24-hour COVID testing clinic operating at Gulkula, as well as testing upon arrival for all interstate visitors. It expressed confidence in its ability to manage the risk of COVID during the four day event. 

"Unfortunately, the NT’s Chief Health Officer has determined that Gulkula’s remote location poses too many logistical and safety challenges in the unlikely event of a COVID incident, such as the difficulty of evacuating people from the site, and the unsuitability of quarantine facilities in north-east Arnhem Land," said the YYF.

Garma Festival is a "celebration of the cultural, artistic and ceremonial traditions of the Yolngu people" according to the foundation's website and considered to be one of the premier events on the First Nations calendar. 

The theme for this year's festival was to be 'Nhanga Ngathilyurra', a Yolgnu phrase meaning 'look towards the future', but the cancellation will be all too reminiscent of the restrictions of the year past. 

Offering the region an annual economic boon, the event will be sorely missed by the Nhulunbuy and surrounding communities.

The Imagination Declaration of the Youth Forum read at Garma 2019
Read the full transcript of a powerful statement read on behalf of the Garma festival's youth forum.