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Yaluk-ut Weelam Ngargee Festival is a music-filled celebration of Indigenous culture

Reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is as important as ever.

Through education, coming together and celebrating unity, we can help to bridge the gap between colonial history and our native culture; something which St Kilda’s Yaluk-ut Weelam Ngargee Festival hopes to achieve. 

The beachside festival pays homage to the Yaluk-ut Weelam clan, or ‘people of the river’, which was one of the many Aboriginal tribes that resided in the Port Phillip area. The term Ngargee means a gathering for celebration, and this is what the festival has been creating for the past 12 years. 

However, festival director Richard Moore says next year’s event will have a slightly different format to usual. 

“Rather than have it all on the one day … we’ve separated out the musical component and put the main part of the music in a concert,” he says.

It’ll be the first time that the festival has been split across two days like this, with the inaugural Yaluk-ut Weelam Ngargee Summer Concert to take place at St Kilda’s Memo Music Hall on Friday February 1. Hosting the musical component in this format allows audiences to give the night’s performers their undivided attention, while also helping to remember an important figure in the clan’s history. 

“It goes back to a woman called Louisa Briggs, who was like a matriarch I guess, and a civil rights leader,” says Moore. “Way back in time, she was abducted by seal hunters from a beach not far from where the festival site is.

“She was forced into a life of slavery and was kept hostage on an island by those seal hunters. She came back, and fought relentlessly for the rights of Indigenous people, and particularly for the rights of Indigenous women in servitude.

“Caroline Briggs, who’s the chair of the Boon Wurrung foundation, who we work with in putting this on, she’s a descendant of Louisa Briggs, so there’s this really strong female, family line. I know Indigenous Peoples talk about song lines; we’re making our own Indigenous, female song line.” 

To honour Louisa Briggs and her fight for the rights of Indigenous women, Moore and his team have put together an all-female lineup, featuring musicians such as Mojo Juju, The Merindas, Squid Nebula and Kalyani Mumtaz. While he sings glowing praise for all the performers, Moore credits Mojo Juju in particular for inspiring his curation of the concert. 

“I blame Mojo Juju actually,” he laughs. “I saw the show [Juju’s performance at the Arts Centre in August], and she was so articulate, and you know, she’s a fantastic musician obviously ... she was so articulate on the political level. Here’s someone that you think, ‘she could be a real political leader amongst young, Indigenous women.’”

The concert will be followed by the Saturday festival in O’Donnell Gardens, inviting families to come along for a day of entertainment and education. Although the main musical aspect is now its own entity, there’ll still be a range of acoustic sets throughout the event, as well as dance performances, cultural workshops and a particularly special, age-old ritual.

“There’s going to be baby blessings at the start of the day,” says Moore, excitedly. “It’s so beautiful. They don’t often do it, it’s not a regular occurrence. Basically, we’re inviting couples, of all races, all nations, to bring their babies down to be blessed. The feet are dipped in ochre, and it’s sort of like a welcome to country – but a welcome into the Yaluk-ut Weelam clan.”

It’s this sense of welcome and togetherness that Moore hopes to achieve with the festival, emphasising the importance of celebrating culture as a way of bringing people together.

“It’s reconciliation ‘cause it’s not making a separation. It’s not saying, ‘you’re black, you’re white, you’re yellow, you’re pink, whatever,’” he says. 

“I think we live in a society where there’s too many divisions, so I hope people come out and they feel ‘hey, we’re all in this together.’”

Yaluk-ut Weelam Ngargee Festival takes place from Friday February 1 to Saturday February 2, with events at St Kilda’s Memo Music Hall and O’Donnell Gardens. Head to the festival website for more information.