Yirrkala Yarrapay Music & Dance Festival



Left to right >> 310 Dance Crew and Community, Banula Marika, TJ Mununggurr, Ngalkanbuy Mununggurr, Ineke Wallis with Justice Crew



The first annual Yirrkala Yarrapay (Morning Star) Music & Dance Festival drew more than 2,000 people to the creative hotbed of Yirrkala on the northeastern tip of Arnhem Land on Saturday July 2. The spectacular celebration of Yolngu art and culture was dedicated to the vision of late Yothu Yindi singer Dr M Yunupingu and featured stellar guests from a broad sweep of indigenous Australia.

Yolngu superstar Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, a surprise performer at the one-day festival, was drawn in from Elcho Island by the unprecedented buzz sweeping the land. Shellie Morris, East Journey and Yothu Yindi founders Witiyana Marika and Stu Kellaway were among the local legends taking to the outdoor stage of the community’s Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre under clear tropical skies.

Festivities began with a historic Yarrapay Bunggul down the main street of Yirrkala, a traditional Welcome to Country, and dedication from Dr M Yunupingu’s wife, Yalmay Yunupingu, cultural advisor to the festival, who welcomed people of all colours and ages from every corner of the land:

“This is where Dr Yunupingu started his music from, and he took his music to the world, so I’m feeling very emotional today. It’s the first festival we ever had, and we’d like to make this an annual event,” she said.

The lavish celebration that followed included the debut of Rachael Wallis’s contemporary Moonfish Dance Company, and a catwalk fashion parade by local models including Yirrkala’s own stunning Magnolia Maymuru, the Northern Territory’s Miss World finalist. Melbourne-based Yolngu singer-songwriter Yirrmal and dance-pop band Ezy 5 were rapturously received local favourites.

Musicians from further afield included Larrakia-via-Adelaide hip-hop artist Jimblah and Sydney dance-pop sensation, Justice Crew. The Medics, stars of the 2012 National Indigenous Music Awards, came together for the first time in over a year for the festival, and fellow Brisbane rock outfit Mary Handsome joined with members of Yothu Yindi to perform that band’s landmark song of cultural affirmation, Tribal Voice.

21-year-old Yirrkala dancer Ineke Wallis, recently selected to represent her people at the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous People in Geneva, was one illustration of the festival’s intent to spotlight gifted emerging community leaders. Yalmay and Dr Yunupingu’s daughter, Dhapanbal Yunupingu, performed her Double J playlisted single “Gurtha (The Fire)” featuring Shellie Morris.

In all, 206 performers contributed to 21 performances spanning a breathtaking spectrum of music, dance and fashion. The festival generated 100 employment contracts, 90% of them in Northeast Arnhem Land, with 27 community and business organisations uniting in support. The majority of the 2000-strong audience calls Yirrkala, Gove, Gunyangara, Gapuwiyak, and Wallaby Beach home.

In the days preceding the festival, the Yirrkala Yarrapay organisers focused on creating opportunities for local youth through a performance platform, linking industry experts in the fields of music, dance, fashion and film to one of the most vibrant, creative and multi-talented artistic communities in Australia.

We don’t have a festival like this in our region. Yarrapay is good for Yirrkala. It’s good for families and for budding musicians and dancers.  And paves the way for their futures; Bunggal and Manikay” says Djawa Yunupingu – Vice Chair Moonfish Productions, Gumatj Aboriginal Corporation and Yothu Yindi Foundation

“Yarrapay shows the balanda people how the Yolgnu culture is. Also it helps us in passing our culture onto the new generation, doing the same way we have done for long time. The whole of Arnhem Land will be talking about this festival for a long time and we are all looking forward to the next one.“ says Banula Marika, Chairman of Moonfish Productions, Director of Rirratjingu Aboriginal Corporation and Dhimurru Aborginal Corporation.

This event was made possible with the invaluable assistance of …

  • Office of Aboriginal Affairs (RAEDF) (NTG)
  • Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet  (IAS)
  • Regional Economic Development Fund  (NTG)
  • Department of the Chief Minister (NTG)
  • ArtsNT (NTG)
  • Rirratjingu Aboriginal Corporation
  • Developing East Arnhem Ltd [DEAL]
  • Buku Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre
  • Rio Tinto Alcan (Gove)
  • Rio Tinto Community Benefit Fund
  • Commonwealth Bank
  • The Arnhem Club
  • ALPA