People all over the world celebrate the beginning of a new cycle in June each year. In Aotearoa (New Zealand) Maori celebrate Matariki, which marks the arrival of the constellation of Pleiades, also known as the Seven Sisters. Back in 1996 our Canadian First Nation cousins chose the Northern Hemisphere summer solstice to celebrate their 'National Aboriginal Day' and this time some groups brought in the Year of the Salmon. At home here in Queensland some of us celebrated the beginning of a new cycle with The Dreaming Festival.
Traditionally the lands of the Dungidau (Woodford, Sunshine Coast Hinterland) are a place of en-masse gathering, mainly for Bunya nut feasts, celebrated through song, dance, food, art making and the rest. 'This is a place where you come to sort out family differences according to Murri lore', said Barry Tanner, Dungidau spokesperson.
Since it purchased lands (in the late '90s), the Woodford Folk Federation has endeavoured to plant over 60,000 trees. This has helped to re-transform the site from a dairy farm to bush parklands dedicated to the arts and humanities and the land has consequently been handed back to the Dungidau. Custodian Cliff Kina's first comment in his opening ceremony speech was 'I am happy to get my land back', which was met with cheers and smiles all round.
Over a period of 15 years these lands have been calling us back again and again in the form of the Maleny Folk Festival, then the Woodford Folk Festival and now mid-year, the all-Indigenous Dreaming Festival by Bundjalung Artistic Director Rhoda Roberts. She promised 'the cream of Australian performers and a generous gathering of special international guests' in attendance.
Of course it wouldn't be a true Indigenous gathering without our visual artists alongside to continue age-old traditions combined with the new ways of seeing and expressing. As Rhoda says of the inclusion 'we are all still talking about country'.
A number of site-specific installations already exist from previous Folk Festival artists-in-residence and considerable effort was invested in setting up galleries and workshops in the bush for The Dreaming Festival. These exhibited works from local artists and curators with clan affiliations to the area, including Barambah Arts from Cherbourg, Brisbane-based proppaNOW Artists Collective, Yugambeh photographer Michael Aird of the Gold Coast and Bundjalung painter Patsy Nagas from Kyogle.
Invited guests from afar included the Bong Family of Indinji shield-makers from Cairns, Dubbo performance artist/photographer Mervyn Bishop, the Lardil and Gayardilt painters of the Gulf of Carpentaria, Donny Woolagoodja and other Worora and Wunambul painters from Mowanjum in the Kimberley, Yolgnu ceremonial Yidaki maker Milkay Mununggurr and weavers of Yirritja and Dhuwa moieties of north-east Arnhem Land and non-Indigenous photographer Andrew Kilvert with documentary works from West Papua.
Yolgnu weavers passed on traditions and skills in their daily weaving workshops. Using pandanus that they had previously dyed they taught a number of techniques for making dilly bags and baskets. Surprisingly, Giyakminy Yunupingu said she learned her style from her Aunty only two years ago at the Garma Festival workshops in Yirrkala. Her continuous work has seen her master the medium.
Passing on comment and stories were the ProppaNOW Artist Collective with curator Djon Mundine who presented Dumb Luck, an exhibition based around the issue of deaths in custody and incarceration, which has regained social and political prominence in Queensland. This included the recent death of Cameron Doomagee in Palm Island and other incidents of abuse of police authority in Townsville, Toowoomba and Goondiwindi. The show will tour to the United Nations conference Engaging Communities at the Brisbane Convention Centre in August.
What does it mean to call a festival 'the Dreaming' in these times? Maybe it reminds us to celebrate that we are the sum of all that has ever been and that we carry forward all that will ever be. We are of the land and the spirit of creation itself. We are, in every way, the mystery and magic of the beginning of all. Happy New Year. Happy you near.