Garma Festival 2017

Garma brings together business and political leaders, intellectuals and activists to discuss the most pressing issues - so what's on the agenda this year? 

About Garma

In its 19th year, Garma has become Australia’s Indigenous equivalent of the World Economic Forum held annually at Davos in Switzerland. Hosted, coordinated and programed entirely by the Yothu Yindi Foundation (YYF), Garma attracts an exclusive gathering of 2,500 political and business leaders from across the globe. The YYF is committed to improving the state of Indigenous disadvantage by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas.

The ancient sound of the Yidaki (didjeridoo) is a call to all people to come together in unity; to gather for the sharing of knowledge and culture; to learn from and listen to one another. Annually the Yidaki (didjeridoo) announces the start of Garma, the largest and most vibrant annual celebration of Yolngu (Aboriginal people of north east Arnhem Land) culture.

Since the 1960s, Yolngu people of Northeast Arnhem Land (where Garma is held) have been conspicuous in the struggle for Aboriginal land rights. In 1963, this provoked by a unilateral government decision to excise a part of their land for a bauxite mine. In protest, the Yolngu people at Yirrkala sent a petition on bark to the Australian House of Representatives that attracted national and international attention. It now now hangs in Parliament House, Canberra as a testament to the Yolngu role in the birth of the land rights movement. This became a court case of Milirrpum v Nabalco Pty Ltd; the Gove land rights case. This land has a long history of politics. 

Garma incorporates visual art, ancient storytelling, dance – including the famous nightly bunggul – and music, as well as other important forums and education and training programs relevant to cultural tourism, craft, governance and youth leadership.

It aims:

  • To provide contemporary environments and programs for the practice, preservation, maintenance and presentation of traditional knowledge systems and cultural traditions and practices, especially bunggul (traditional dance), Manikay (song), Miny' tji (art) and ceremony.
  • To facilitate the sharing of knowledge and culture, thereby fostering greater understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
  • To develop economic opportunities for Yolngu through education, training, employment, enterprise and remote Indigenous community development.

Garma is presented by the Yothu Yindi Foundation, a not-for-profit Aboriginal corporation with tax destructibility gift recipient status.

All Garma registrations and revenues are directed into projects to support the Foundation and the Arnhem region.

This Years' Theme - Go! Bukuluŋdhun Makarrata wu’

Each year, a the theme of Garma will relate to current topical national affairs and are endorsed by the Yothu Yindi Foundation’s Board of Director, Festival Director and key advisers

This year, momentum is building towards a nationwide makarrata – a coming together, or healing – and will be the central theme at Garma 2017.

The YYF has said that in traditional Yolngu culture, a makarrata was a peace-making ceremony to heal divisions of the past between disputing clans. A senior mediator was called on to oversee the process, which typically involved the infliction of pain to the person who had committed the wrong. In the Yolngu language, the theme translates to Go! Bukuluŋdhun Makarrata wu’.

Key Forum

The Garma Key Forum is based off Galarrwuy Yunupingu's "our Camp David" - a restful place, but one of high-level discussion and engagement. A place where people felt safe and able to express themselves. It continues to stand as a place where Indigenous Australia can express itself in a forum where politicians, captains of industry, senior bureaucrats and non-Indigenous thinkers were the listeners, and the observers, and on occasion, the participants.

Today, the Key Forum attracts many community, corporate and government leaders, educators, students and artists. Majority of the speakers and presenters speak from a lifetime of experiences – from high politics to grassroots activism.

This years' theme being to call to makarrata, the Key Forum panelists will explore whether we favour substantive constitutional change or structural reform; whether we seek to give a voice to the ancient sovereignty that is on display at Garma; are we in favour of the status quo; and are we capable - as the Yolngu ancestor Ganbulapula was - of making sense from disorder.

This years' key forum facilitators are;

Prof. Marcia Langton AM, PHD 

Professor Langton is Associate Provost at The University of Melbourne and is one of Australia's leading academics. She has facilitated the Key Forum for the past decade. 


Djawa Yunupingu

A senior Gumatj man, Djawa is Deputy Chairman of the YYF and Gumatj Corporation, a Council Member of Parks & Wildlife Commission NT and a member of the Northern Land Council. 


Sean Bowden LLB (Hons)

Sean Bowden is a lawyer with 20 years' experience in the Northern Territory. He has provided legal advice to the Gumatj clan for over a decade and has represented the Aboriginal interests at Wadeye, Mutitjulu, Groote Eylandt and Tennant Creek. 


See the full Key Forum programme here

Panels and panelists include;


Saturday, 5 August

9.30am: Makarrata – Go! Bukulungdhun; Dialogue on Status of Australia’s Constitutional Reform

10.45am: Makarrata Session

Statements from Referendum Council members, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders, Australian political and intellectual leaders and participants

12.15pm: Official opening of the Gulkula Project, the Gulkula Mining Training Centre and introduction of Yolngu trainees

2.00pm: Anchoring Our Future: Economic and Business Development

3.15pm: Anchoring our Future: Panel discussion


Sunday, 6 August

9.30am: State and Territory treaty processes

  • Hon. Kyam Maher MLC, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, South Australian Government
  • Michael Gunner MLA (or nominee), Chief Minister of the Northern Territory 
  • Prof. Megan Davis, Pro Vice Chancellor Indigenous, Professor of Law, University of New South Wales
  • Questions from the floor

11.30am: Miwatj Health Forum

Panel 1: The Renal Nightmare

  • Dr Galarrwuy Yunupiŋu, Chair YYF, Leader of the Gumatj clan
  • Gundimulk Wajambi, Renal advocate and Senior Leader Marrakulu clan
  • Dr Paul Lawton, Renal Specialist
  • Bobbi Campbell, FAS Indigenous Health Division, Australian Department of Health

Panel 2: Social and Emotional Wellbeing, and Mental Health

  • Fiona Djerrkura, Manager of SEWB services, Miwatj Health
  • Prof. Pat Dudgeon, Mental Health Commission
  • Djamalaka Dhamarrandji, Manager of Mental Health, Miwatj Health
  • Frank Quinlan, CEO of Mental Health Australia
  • Desmond Campbell, Dept Correctional Services NT, Family violence program

3.00pm: Government, Grants & Money

  • Barry Hansen, former President, NT Council of Social Services
  • Bob Beadman, former Chairman NT Grants Commission and former coordinator General
  • Hon. Fred Chaney, former Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party of Australia


Monday, 7 August

9.30am: Makarrata Panel: Final session on Constitutional Reform and Makarrata

In keeping with the theme of this year’s Garma there will be an opportunity for Australians to voice their thoughts on the road to constitutional reform that began at Uluru on 27 May 2017.



Youth Forum

Garma facilitates a platform where the next generation will take Australia’s future and help mould, monitor and motivate our nation forward through a joint and progressive vision.

If Makarrata is about peace making and healing divisions of our past, then what can Garma put in place to ensure an end to some of these within-reach challenges.

School aged kids, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, from 8 – 18 years will participate in a broad range of activities, from mobile journalism, digital media, information sessions, to song writing workshops, film and production sessions, and educational workshops designed for our young stars. Physical activities build team spirit and the Yolgnu Rapirri Rom smoking ceremony will cleanse and clear to make way for safe passages for making long-lasting friendships.

The Youth Forum is a place of learning, where youth leadership can trail blaze through fun educative workshops, humour, respect, unity and lots of noise!

Friday, 4 August

Education Forum; Looking up to the future

  • Chaired by Djawa Yunupingu and Yananymal Mununggurr
  • Session Convenors: Stan Grant and Tanya Denning-Orman

8:30am: Gumatj and djamakuli (children) welcome
8:45am: A tribute to Yolngu educator Ms Mununggurr 
9.00 – 9.40am: Panel of young Indigenous people speak to the Forum about their experiences and how education connects us all
9.45– 10:15am: Key Note Address

1:15 – 2:00pm: Presentation 1; Education in East Arnhem Land

  • Minister Eva Lawler and Senior Representatives of the Northern Territory and Commonwealth departments
  • Senior Yolngu educators 

Presentation 2; Learning on Country

Progress and outcomes – this presentation explains the innovative program now working in five large Arnhem Land Communities

2.10 - 2.40pm: Panel discussion with Q & A: Educational leaders from across the nation

Evening Bunggul Dance

Each evening, a traditional ceremonial dance is performed until sunset. Audiences are invited to take in the splendour and colour of the traditional dance on the fringes of Gulkula’s bunggul grounds. The evening bunggul is one of the major attractions at the Garma Festival and rates highly across the national and international arts scene.

Gulkula, the site venue of Garma, has long been the venue for the coming together of families from across this from across this region, and this tradition continues to honour Australian arts with a tremendous wealth of rich cultural pride. The bunggul flair explodes in colour, movement, songlines, and the voices of the Senior Men, sharing the stories that are thousands of years old.

This year, diamonds will be painted on the chests of the bunggul dancers, signifying clan identity and structure. The site upon which Garma is staged belongs to the Gumatj clan, one of the larger clan groups from the North East Arnhem Land region. The diamonds are painted proudly onto the male bodies indicate where the significant dance and song has originated from and how it has carried through generations past.


Friday, 4 August

4.15pm: Opening Bunggul

‘Makarrata’ - the ceremony grounds at Gulkula are a point of energy as Yolngu clans speak through the clapsticks of Senior Men and movements of young men and women tell the stories of ancient manikay, with rumbling sounds of the yidaki (didgeridoo).

Monday, 7 August

4.00pm: Closing Bunggul

The clan leaders will bring song-cycles, with manikay (song) and yidaki (didgeridoo) bringing the ceremony to life for a final time. The closing bunggul is the Yolngu equivalent to the Key Forum where Yolngu people express themselves, make statements, exhibit their prowess, heal rifts, manage disputes and form alliances and lasting bonds.

Cinema, comedy, poetry & workshops


The Festival is proud to present the Garma Cinema to present another line-up of stellar new films brought to by Blackfella Films. This year the cinema will showcase; In My Own Words, Spear Friday, We Don’t Need A Map, Zach’s Ceremony.


2017 will kick off Garma’s first ever comedy night, presented by the YYF and the Aboriginal Comedy All Stars. The best Indigenous comics will join the stage including, Sean Choolburra, Steven Oliver, Aaron Fa’aoso, Andy Saunders, Kevin Kropinyeri.


The Sydney Story Factory, the University of Sydney and the YYF presents the inaugural Garma Poetry Slam! Organised by Jack Thompson and Yunupiŋu.

Other activities and workshops

Other activities for visitors include, fireside yarns, tai chi, early morning exercises, team sports, the Garma library, astronomy and star-gazing, cultural curriculum and language learning, painting and weaving demonstrations and creative writing workshops.


Many of this years’ music acts have local roots, including three from Groote Eylandt. Sunday night (6 August) Garma will showcase the talented Dhapanbal Yunupiŋu, daughter of the late Dr. Yunupiŋu. As well as the Warumpi Band members will step up to honour Warumpi lead singer, George Burarrwanga, marking the tenth anniversary of his passing.

Other talents include, Garraŋali Band, Bärra West Wind, Emily Wurramurra, Yirriŋa Matjala, Salt Lake Band, Neil Murray, Ganga Giri, Radical Son, Yirrmal. Early morning performances from Yeshe, Jesse Tree Project and Valentina Brave and lunchtime acts, DENNI from Tasmania and international dub poet Michael St. George will also join the line-up.

For more information about music at Garma, go here

Friday, 4 August

8.30pm: Mambali Band
9.30pm: Emily Wurramurra
10.30pm: Ganga Giri
11.30pm: Garraŋali Band

Saturday, 5 August

6.30pm: Bärra West Wind
10.30pm: David Spry & The Moral High Ground

Sunday, 6 August

7.00pm: Yirrmal
8.00pm: Dhapanbal Yunupiŋu
9.00pm: Radical Son
10.00pm: Warumpi Band tribute by friends and family

Monday, 7 August

6.00pm: Neil Murray
7.00pm: Y-Boys
8.00pm: Yirriŋa Matjala
9.00pm: Salt Lake

Gapan Gallery

The outdoor Gapan Gallery showcases limited edition artworks within a grove of stringy bark trees adjacent to the bunggul ground. The Gallery brings together some of Australia’s most respected and valued artists, who are on hand to share their influence and discuss their work exhibited within the Gapan open air gallery space.

This years’ arts organisations are;


Bula’bula Arts Aboriginal Corporation

Bula’bula Arts Aboriginal Corporation (BAAC) began in the 1970s as Ramingining Arts and Crafts, and today, the name ‘Bula’bula’ refers to the message embodied in the song-cycle of the Land’s main creative-being, Gandayala the Red Kangaroo, and loosely translates to mean ‘Knowledge’. 

BAAC’s main objective is to preserve and foster Yolngu culture, being situated near the Arafura wetlands in North East Arnhem Land.


Buku Larrnggay

Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre is the Indigenous community controlled art centre of Northeast Arnhem Land located in Yirrkala, a small Aboriginal community, approximately 700km east of Darwin.


YYF Photographic Exhibition

Each year, the YYF engages a number of official photographers to record our annual Garma event. Garma stands out both globally and nationally as a significant Indigenous asset showcasing our dance, arts, music and cultural scene. The YYF archives hold a vast number of memorable moments that are shared with Yolngu families and guests through this exhibition.


NT Dept of Correctional Services

A number of works by detainees from Alice and Darwin Correctional Centre showcase the variety of art within an expression of those in incarcerated in our community.

The skills that are required to produce artworks enable the detainee to follow a creative pathway to undertake meaningful employment in the community and remain with family and community on their country.

NITV Broadcast

National Indigenous Television is a Garma 2017 media partner. As the yidaki calls open and welcomes us, NITV will deliver the nation comprehensive and live coverage capturing all elements of debate, discussion, arts, culture and analysis.


Friday, 4 August

*10am: Welcome to Garma Morning Show (also on Facebook Live)

9.00pm: The Point In Review: Garma Festival special edition hosted by Karla Grant


Saturday, 5 August

9.00am-12.30pm: Garma Forum Sessions

1.30pm - 5.00pm: Garma Forum Sessions including breaking news wrap


Sunday, 6 August

9.00am-12.30pm: Garma Forum Sessions

1.30pm - 5.00pm: Garma Forum Sessions including breaking news wrap


Monday, 7 August

9.00am - 11.00am: Garma highlights

5.00pm: Farewell from Garma (also on Facebook Live)

9.00pm: The Point: Garma Festival Youth Forum Special hosted by Rachael Hocking (also on Facebook Live)


*all in AEST