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First Nations to the Front

The rich fibres of Garrmalang Festival were first woven in 2014 to showcase, inspire and celebrate First Nations arts and culture, blossoming over the years into an exciting, culture-rich event. Traditionally held in May, kicking off festival season at the beginning of the Dry, this year’s big event is marked for July.

In exciting news, on the typical weekend of Garrmalang, a huge concert featuring Yolngu surf rock band King Stingray not only launches the 2022 program, it also shepherds in a new era of increased First Nations programming at Darwin Entertainment Centre.

By Tierney Seccull

Garrmalang Festival started as a passion project for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander local, and former Creative Director, Ben Graetz. For the traditional custodians, the Larrakia People, Garrmalang is the name for what is now known as Darwin’s CBD.

Darwin’s only dedicated First Nations festival, Garrmalang has cemented itself as an event of national importance, and includes a comprehensive program of engaging panel discussions, music, comedy, children’s events, visual arts, and a marketplace.

For Mike Harris, General Manager at Darwin Entertainment Centre (DEC), the traditional Garrmalang weekend presents the perfect opportunity to kick off a full year of First Nations programming at the Centre.

“There’s two parts to Garrmalang, now. There’s the festival, which is the existing event in the calendar, and what we have now successfully funded through Federal Government RISE funding, is an increase in First Nations programming under the umbrella of Garrmalang across the whole year,” he says.

In addition to enabling DEC to present a program of First Nations events, the RISE funding also allows opportunities for sector development programs and other activities, as well as next year’s Garrmalang Festival.

Access is particularly of importance, allowing First Nations people from across the NT to engage with the program. Whilst drawing people to DEC for events, with direct engagement with remote communities and First Nations organisations, the program also allows artists and creatives to engage with the communities.

“We’ve left it quite open with what we can do,” Harris says.

“With RISE funding, we can also consider employment opportunities – we’re not restricted, as long as there are creative opportunities for people.”

The full 2022 Garrmalang Festival program is let out of the bag in a special launch event at the DEC Forecourt. Featuring a traditional Welcome to Country from Larrakia custodians, the program is revealed before the Territory's own King Stingray – arguably the hottest band in the country right now – hits The Playhouse stage.

Hot on the heels from huge gigs across the country, most recently Womad in South Australia and Parrtjima in the Red Centre, the band has won a loyal following despite only releasing their debut single ‘Hey Wanhaka’ in 2020. This special concert, held to coincide with the 2022 Garrmalang Festival launch, is set to literally make a song and dance about First Nations arts and culture.

When asked why it’s so important to the DEC team to ensure these programs continue, Harris says it’s a no brainer.

“It’s critical that Darwin has this event. And that it has a growth trajectory, too – not just for year ‘round activity, but also for Garrmalang Festival. We can’t be in Darwin in the Northern Territory, and not be creating a platform for First Nations led arts and cultural events.”

So, head along to DEC to get the juicy details. Because First Nations arts and culture was, and always will be, the very first stitch in the fabric of Australia.

2022 Garrmalang Festival Launch 
WHEN SAT 28 MAY | 6.30PM
COST FREE        

Garrmalang Festival
WHEN FRI 29 – SUN 31 JUL   

King Stingray       
COST $37 | $30 MEMB/CONC

Header & thumbnail: King Stingray
Top inset: Shellie Morris performing at the 2021 Garrmalang Festival. Photo: Benjamin Warlngundu Bayliss
Bottom inset: King Stingray. Photo: Sam Brumby

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