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30 Years of the Nitmiluk Handback

PACK A BAG AND MAKE THE TRIP to Katherine for the inaugural Nitmiluk Festival, an event created to celebrate 30 years since Nitmiluk National Park was handed back to Jawoyn traditional owners. 

The 10-day celebration marks the important historical milestone with an enticing program of events including art, music, markets, family fun, and gourmet food and wine experiences. 

Jawoyn board chairperson Lisa Mumbin says it’s important to honour the anniversary, to celebrate the combined achievements of the 30-year collaboration between the Northern Territory Government and the Jawoyn traditional owners.

“This year on 10 September, Jawoyn people celebrate a milestone in their modern history – 30 years since we were recognised as the traditional owners of Nitmiluk. The anniversary and Jawoyn’s partnership with the Northern Territory Government offers a significant occasion for all our community to reflect on the great successes we’ve had together,” she says.

“It’s a celebration of what can be achieved through collaboration and reconciliation. In this spirit, groups and organisations from across the Katherine region have united to create a festival that celebrates Nitmiluk, our region and community.”

Festival organising committee member Emma Masters has worked in the region for many years, developing a special connection to its people and place.

“My relationship with Jawoyn started more than a decade ago when I was researching a story with two Jawoyn elders who were storytellers at Barunga Festival. It lead to being invited to cover the 20th anniversary of the Nitmiluk handback, then on to cover the discovery of rock art on Jawoyn country,” she says.

“I developed a special relationship with the traditional owner of that place and we went on quite an adventure together. She passed last year and I miss her. I wish she were here for this year’s celebration. She was one of the last fluent Jawoyn speakers on the planet.

“I’m proud to walk alongside Jawoyn people and it’s been great to be part of a collaborative team helping to deliver the festival. There has been a lot of hard work by many people, stakeholders and community groups. I take my hat off to everyone for all their efforts.”

And this hard work has paid off, with an impressive program of events to honour the anniversary. 

Held at Godinymayin Yijard Rivers Art and Culture Centre, Sharing Country is an exhibition to showcase Jawoyn culture, history and land, observing the Jawoyn people’s fight for recognition and the hand back of Nitmiluk through collaboration and reconciliation.  

Concert on the Gorge is a unique chance to experience the world-famous Katherine Gorge as never before. Feast on a bush-food inspired picnic-style meal as you’re treated to the sounds of the Australian Army Band Darwin and the local children’s Canterbillay Choir – all under the stars. Go on a Journey of the Palate with two special food events at Cicada Lodge, with local foods paired with wines by celebrity chef Mark Olive.

Leliyn Family Fun Day is the perfect chance to get the family together for a day of, well fun! Enjoy entertainment for all ages, including a jumping castle, face painting and variety of activities in and out of the water. And mark the very day the land was handed back 30 years ago on Tue 10 Sep, with music and dancing – we hear Yirrmal’s also popping by for a special performance.

The inaugural Nitmiluk Festival is fun for eveyone, yes, but more importantly it marks a time in Australia’s history when the nation began to recognise more than 60,000 years of Indigenous people’s living spiritual and cultural connection to country. That’s certainly something to celebrate.

Nitmiluk Festival FRI 6 – SUN 15 SEP | NITMILUK NATIONAL PARK |

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