Garma Festival 2019 in Arnhem Land


Every August, a yidaki call announces the start of Garma, the largest and most vibrant annual celebration of Yolngu (aboriginal) people of northeast Arnhem Land, in Australia. This year it happens from 2-5 August.

Garma happens at remote Gulkula, near Nhulunbuy in northeast Arnhem Land, about 1,000km from Darwin. There, some 2,000 indigenous and non-indigenous Australians and other visitors gather for the annual festival of aboriginal art and living. Billed as the largest and most vibrant annual celebration of its kind, it is a five-day celebration of 40,000 years of local culture made real through storytelling, dancing, music, dance and just hanging with other people.


Garma is not for the casual tourist, however. It is held in what is a very remote part of Arnhem Land, and attendees have to either fly into the closest township of Nhulunbuy (or Gove) from Darwin or Cairns – or drive from Darwin for hours along the mostly dirt road, which has no fuel stops, little traffic and plenty of bulldust and potholes.

The festival is run by the Yothu Yindi Foundation, founded by the famous band’s lead singer, Mandawuy Yunupingu and his brother Galarrwuy. It is picky about who attends too – although many visitors come from overseas, as well as across Australia, everybody has to apply. You can’t just pay for a ticket and lob in; this is partly because it is so remote. All attendees camp at Garma, and all tents, meals, toilet blocks and showers have to be shipped in specially so numbers have to be limited. Everybody has to register their interest before they are accepted to attend, and every year a certain number of places are reserved for cultural visitors, so get in quick is the best advice.

Darwin Festival_Indigenous dancers_Credit Peter Eve_Tourism NT.jpg

The organisers warn that attending isn’t cheap, either, due to its remote location, but says it is a unique call to all people to come together in unity, to gather for the sharing of knowledge and culture and learning from and listening to. It’s definitely a 'two-way learning process", but they say the distance travelled and the effort involved make this a unique event - and we agree!

If you can, visit this one of a kind celebration.

Check out the lineup at: