Aboriginal cultural festivals
Find out the plethora of Aboriginal festivals in Australia celebrating culture and art.
In Australia more than 130 festivals celebrate Aboriginal arts and culture across the country each year. You find some of them listed below. Make sure to find out more details before you decide to attend an Aboriginal festival.
Indigenous festivals [are] a leading space of innovation in creating a sustainable, secure and mature national culture for all Australians based on cross-cultural recognition.—Indigenous Cultural Festivals and Community Wellbeing in Australia report 
New South Wales
- Guringai Festival aims to raise awareness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in the Northern Sydney region. Founded in 2001, it includes art exhibitions, films, performances, environmental walks, workshops and talks in venues across Sydney. The festival starts the day before Sorry Day on the 26 May through to the end of NAIDOC week, the second week in July each year. See www.guringaifestival.com.au
- Message Sticks Film Festival, Sydney (May/June)
- Mungabareena Ngan-Girra Festival, Albury
- Red Ochre Music Festival takes place in Victoria Park in Dubbo and celebrates Wiradjuri culture. It started in 2001.
- Saltwater Freshwater Festival started 2010 in Coffs Harbour on Australia Day and is understood as a positive inclusive day for the community where the diversity of the Worimi, Birpai, Dunghutti and Bumbaynggirr Aboriginal nations are shared.
- Yaamma Festival is held since 2005 in Bourke. Yaamma means ‘welcome’. The festival focuses on themes of spirit, soul, heart, mind and body (October).
- Yabun Festival, Sydney (26 January)
- Barunga Festival, Barunga. Home of the famous Barunga Bark Petition, the Barunga Festival is one of Australia’s longest-running Aboriginal community festivals, celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2010. It is scheduled each year on the second Monday in June (Queen’s Birthday).
- Boonu Boonu Festival, Borroloola
- Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair is a 3-day event held since 2007. It’s the only one where Aboriginal-owned art centres come together to sell their products directly to the public.
- Desert Mob Festival, Alice Springs
- Freedom Day Festival, Kalkarindji
- Healthy Lifestyle Festival, Elcho Island (October)
- Garma is an annual celebration of the Yolngu people’s traditional culture near Nhulunbuy, in north-east Arnhemland. Mandawuy Yunupingu founded Garma in 1998 which includes a daily ‘bunggul’ (dance), art exhibitions and projects, a youth forum, a cultural tourism program and music performances during its five-day program, along with a key forum presentation and discussion sessions.
It's not some secret and mystic society; the Yolngu are generous and they want to share. It's the confidence that comes from knowing they have something unique and vital.—Simon Balderstone, Garma organiser 
- Mahbilil Festival takes its name from the gentle evening breeze, and is held by the shores of Lake Jabiru, at Kakadu since 1990. It features traditional arts and crafts, food competitions, exhibitions and an evening program of live music and dance.
- Merrepen Arts Festival, Daly River
- Peppimenarti Community Open Day, Daly River
- Walking With Spirits celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2011. The festival is held in Malkgulumbu (Beswick Falls), on the south-west corner of Arnhem Land, on the land of the Jawoyn people. The sacred site is only open to the public during the festival.
- Booin Gari Festival (Come This Way), started in 2008 in Tewantin, Sunshine Coast. The Murri gathering is a family day to celebrate local Indigenous culture and history through a range of creative events and performances.
- Cairns Indigenous Art Fair started in 2009 and goes for 3 days. It features events, performances, workshops and artists’ talks.
- Colourised Festival, Brisbane
- Cultural Fest. Despite the simple name this festival is held in Townsville since 1994. It is believed to be the biggest of its kind in Australia.
- Dreaming Festival, Woodford (one hour north of Brisbane) is the largest Aboriginal cultural festival in Australia showcasing the wide variety of cultural expression. The festival started in 2004 and
Program cover of the Dreaming Festival 2008.features performing arts venues, bars, Ceremony grounds, traditional healing, galleries, rituals, campfire story circles and a mass of stalls, workshop avenue and food outlets.
- Laura Aboriginal Dance and Cultural Festival, a biennial three-day gathering dedicated to celebrating local dance and arts from across the Cape York region (far north Queensland). During the festival elders pass on the stories and meaning behind the dances and songs to the next generation. The festival was established in the early 1980s .
The [Laura Dance] Festival is all about empowerment for Aboriginal people and instilling some self-confidence in the younger ones. It's also about supporting the communities and maintaining that family focus.—Jeremy Geia, Director Laura Dance Festival 
- Stylin’ Up is “Australia’s largest Indigenous youth hip-hop/RnB and cultural festival” . Set in Brisbane, it started in 2001 and features many cultural and community activities alongside the music. An extensive workshop program keeps the young engaged. See www.stylinup.com.au.
- Blak Nite, Carclew
- Handprints, Carclew
- Spirit Festival, Adelaide, is South Australia’s only dedicated celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts, culture and sport. More about the two-day event on www.thespiritfestival.com.
- Yarnballa Festival, Port Augusta. A four-day festival of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture including dance, visual arts, music, comedy and film; hosted for the first time in October 2008.
- Nayri Niara (Good Spirit) Festival, started in 2009 and is held on Bruny Island featuring a series of performances, workshops, forums, healing circles, films, and talks, and a culturally diverse range of music. (April)
- Putalina Festival, held at Oyster Cove (‘putalina’ in the local language) since 1984, celebrates Aboriginal culture with music, dance and festivities, and provides a platform for young Aboriginal performers. Oyster Cove was handed back to Aboriginal people in 1995.
- The Coming of the Light
- Winds Of Zenadth is a four-day festival celebrating Torres Strait Islander culture on Thursday Island.
- Big Fella Festival is an Indigenous music festival held at the beginning of the year at Falls Creek, on top of the Victorian Alps, since 2009. It aims to showcase local traditional owner culture.
- Black Harmony Gathering celebrates the cultural diversity in Harmony Week in March on the banks of the Yarra River. The event started in 2004.
- Bless Your Blak Arts Festival, Melbourne
- Deadly Funny Comedy Competition came alive in 2006 as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Contestants participate in intensive comedy workshops where facilitators help them fine-tune their acts. Note that ‘deadly’ means ‘great’ in Aboriginal slang language. Visit www.deadlyfunny.com.au for more information.
- Tarerer Festival Gathering of Nations, Port Fairy, 180kms west of Melbourne. ‘Tarerer’ means ‘meeting of the clans’. The festival celebrates through dance, song and workshops on a traditional gathering site.
- Vibe Alive is a 2-day gathering at Mildura for young Australians of all backgrounds promoting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and encouraging tolerance and teamwork.
- Yalukit Willam Ngargee: People Place Gathering is part of the wider St Kilda Festival in Melbourne since 2006. The main activity is a concert and gathering with market stalls and a dance program.
- Keela Dreaming Festival is a biennial festival in the West Australian wheatbelt town of Kellerberrin featuring Nyoongar arts and culture. The name comes from ‘keela’, the Nyoongar totem for the Kellerberrin region.
- Mowanjum Festival, Derby
- Tribal Mix is a festival in Busselton celebrating Nyungar culture, dance and music in January. Check www.busseltonfestival.com.au for details.
- Wardarnji Festival, Fremantle. One of the biggest Aboriginal celebrations on the Perth calendar, it gets its name from the Wardandi Nyoongar people of the south-west of WA. The festival was started in 1993 by a group of non-Aboriginal people wanting to celebrate Indigenous culture. It was preceded by traditional celebrations among local Nyoongar families .
- Wardarnji Aboriginal Cultural Festival is part of the Fremantle Festival where it is held since 1993 giving visitors a glimpse of Aboriginal culture on the Derbarl Yerrigan (Swan River).
- National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Week
- Vibe 3on3 is a weekend Aboriginal youth festival that incorporates basketball, dancing, art, culture and health. It travels throughout Australia and aims to promote healthy lifestyles, strengthen communities and boost self-esteem . In May 2010 it celebrated its 100th event.
We want people to own Indigenous culture and feel Australian. We want them to participate in the healing ceremony and let their troubles go away and dance and feel the connection to the ground and country--anyone can feel that if they commit to it.—Karla Hart, Coordinator Wardarnji Festival, Fremantle 
- Wakakirri Outback Festival visits schools aiming to improve uderstanding of, and respect for, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. It is a national five-day story-telling festival which also ‘creatively’ teaches numeracy and literacy skills. Performing and visual arts techniques are used to tell the stories. See www.wakakirri.com
The research has shown that these [festival] events matter deeply to Indigenous people, and are important ways to renew Indigenous cultures.—Indigenous Cultural Festivals and Community Wellbeing in Australia report 
Last updated: 1 May 2013 | Out of respect for Aboriginal culture I use Indigenous sources as much as possible.
 'Thousands at Freo fest', Koori Mail 440 p.28
 'Vibe rocks into Sydney, Ceduna', Koori Mail 442 p.60
 'Garma goes creative in 2009', Koori Mail 447 p.10
 'Thousands pack out Laura Dance Festival', Koori Mail 454 p.13
 'Huge line-up at Brisbane festival', Koori Mail 476 p.55
 'We love festivals', Koori Mail 488 p.53
 'Fremantle gets ready for the Wardarnji Festival', Koori Mail 514 p.44