First Nations festivals around Australia

Read on for our round up of our favourite festivals and cultural events across the country featuring First Nations dance, music, food, art and stories…

Image: Tourism and Events

First Nations Festivals in Northern Territory

Australia’s Indigenous peoples have made this land their home for upwards of 65,000 years and possess a wealth of diverse cultures, languages and histories passed down over these thousands of generations. Experiencing some of these ancient traditions first hand, even momentarily, provides a rare and uniquely meaningful glimpse into some of the oldest practised cultures on Earth and is an absolute must for anyone exploring Australia.

First Nations festivals in the Northern Territory

Parrtjima – A Festival in Light – Alice Springs, Red Centre

Perhaps the most spectacular event on this list, and one of the most well known, Parrtjima (pronounced par-Chee-ma) is a stunning display of Indigenous music, art and culture which illuminates the desert surrounding Alice Springs with a state-of-the-art light show every night for 10 nights. With its next appearance in April 2022, if you get to only one festival on this list, make it Parrtjima. 
Read YHA’s  write up of the festival.

Barunga Festival – Barunga, Katherine Region

The Barunga Festival punches well above its weight, drawing sizeable crowds each June to the rural Aboriginal community of Barunga, 70km East of Katherine. The three-day festival features a smorgasbord of Indigenous cultural activities, art, performances and sporting events, which visitors can enjoy while camping nearby for a truly immersive experience. 

Desert Mob – Alice Springs, Red Centre

Facilitated by Desart, the peak body for Central Australian Aboriginal art, Desert Mob sees artists and art organisations from across SA, WA and NT come together for a huge exhibition in Alice Springs. The highlight of the event is the week-long symposium, which gives the public an opportunity to interact with and buy works directly from the artists themselves. 

Garma Festival – Gulkula Arnhem Land

Garma Festival was established by popular music group Yothu Yindi’s eponymous Foundation in 1999, and celebrates the culture and traditions of the Yolngu people of north-east Arnhem Land. The festival plays host to local art, dance and stories and is also a significant meeting of the region’s clan Elders. 

Taste of Kakadu – Kakadu National Park

For lovers of new flavours, Kakadu’s Taste of Kakadu festival is a major treat. Across 10 days, throughout a series of culinary-themed events featuring Indigenous cooks and foraging experts, attendees can immerse themselves in local Aboriginal cuisine. The central hub area’s live music, food stalls and hanging lights create a vividly sensory atmosphere that’ll stick with you long after it’s over.

Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair – Darwin

This well-established showcase of contemporary Indigenous art is one of the largest of its kind, and provides an opportunity for the public to meet and purchase works directly from artists. Part of the Darwin Festival’s annual program, the artworks here ancompass not only traditional paint and sculpture, but also dance, fashion and film and more.

First Nations festivals in Queensland

Laura Quinkan Dance Festival – Laura, Cape York

The Laura Quinkan Dance Festival pits dance troupes from local Far North Queensland-based Indigenous groups against one-another in a highly competitive but joyful celebration of traditional forms of music and dance. Held every two years in July, the event makes for a great excuse to visit Far North Queensland at its absolute best. Be sure to also check out the local rock art, which is some of the best preserved in the whole of Australia. 

Winds of Zenadth – Thursday Island, Torrest Strait

The only Torres Strait Islander-focused festival on this list, the elegantly named Winds of Zenadth is a fascinating celebration of Torres Strait Island culture across four days in September. Held on Thursday Island, off the tip of Far North Queensland, the event provides a rare snapshot of the distinct ceremonial, musical and artistic practices of its people. 

First Nations festivals in Western Australia

Karijini Experience – Karijini National Park

Held across 5 days in April, the entirely free Karijini Experience is a holistic festival showcasing the lands, culture and way of life of the Banjima people, the traditional custodians of the land on which the festival is held. Under marquees and pavillions set up in the park, this wide-ranging festival puts on a real feast of performances, food, art and participation-friendly events. Walks through the park, stargazing and a sense of peace with your surroundings are what you can expect here. 

First Nations festivals in South Australia

Tarnanthi – Adelaide/Various

Hosted by the Art Gallery of South Australia, Tarnanthi is a celebration of Aboriginal artists from around Australia. The annual art fair is a three-day event giving the public a chance to meet Indigenous artists and support them by purchasing artworks, and the festival then continues as a major exhibition or state-wide festival featuring the artists across various galleries. 

First Nations festivals in New South Wales

Boomerang Festival – Byron Bay

Brought to us as part of Byron Bay’s well-established Bluesfest, the music-centric Boomerang Festival is quite a special experience. In keeping with Byron’s laid-back, welcoming vibe, Boomerang Festival attracts musicians and artists of First Nations background from across the country to facilitate a diverse program of traditional dance and music performances and cultural workshops on Bundjalung land. The dates of Bluesfest have changed recently, but for now, the next event is scheduled for April.

Yabun – Camperdown, Sydney

Yabun has taken place each January 26th for decades and is meeting of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures featuring live performances, a food market, kid-friendly arts and crafts and plenty more. Set in Sydney, on Gadigal land, perhaps the most important function of the event is its facilitation of discussion panels, where local community members and Elders can make their voices heard on issues that affect Indigenous populations. 

Giiyong Festival – Jigamy, Eden

Meaning ‘come to welcome’ in Dhurga/Djiringanj language, the Giiyong Festival, first held in 2018, celebrates traditional and contemporary Aboriginal culture through dance, art, music, film, theatre, food, sport, workshops and cultural tours.

First Nations festivals in Victoria

2 Worlds Festival – Birrarung Marr, Melbourne

Usually held in March, 2 Worlds Festival is an attempt to cultivate a bridge between Aboriginal cultures and those of the country’s more recent arrivals. The event provides a platform for Indigenous and non-Indigenous performers and artisans to show off their talents, while building tolerance and understanding between the myriad of peoples that make up Australia. It’s a gorgeous concept and makes for a wonderful day out in the city with kids. 

Yaluk-Ut Weelam Ngargee – Port Phillip, Melbourne

Roughly translating to People, Place, Gathering, this Melbourne-centred cultural festival pays homage to the culture of the local Boon Wurrung people, who make the Port Phillip Bay area their home. The festival program has recently expanded across multiple days, and focuses on live music, performances and demonstrations of traditonal practices. The organisers of this one are pretty on-the-ball, and manage to serve up something new and well-realised every year. 

First Nations festivals in Tasmania

Ballawinne Festival – Cygnet, Huon Valley

With its inaugural year in 2020 as part of the Cygnet Folk Festival, the Ballawinne Festival and Truth Telling Day is very much in its infancy. Nevertheless, it’s a very important step towards recognising Tasmania’s too-often overlooked First Nations people, and gives a rare glimpse into the culture of a unique population of Indigenous Australians. One to watch for the future. 

National First Nations events

NAIDOC  Week – All over the country

NAIDOC Week is, in many ways, the most important event on this list. Every July, NAIDOC week brings into focus the culture and history of Australia’s Indigenous peoples in an Australia-wide week of recognition, reconciliation and celebration. Aside from the annual achievement awards and poster competition, the celebrations are conducted almost entirely by local representatives, which means the number of individual events and festivals held are in the thousands. There’ll almost certainly be a local NAIDOC event near you – contact your local regional office to learn more. 
Looking to experience First Nations culture? Check out our First Nations tours and experiences

MORE = https://www.yha.com.au/travel-and-tours/traveller-stories/indigenous-festivals-around-australia