Yaluk-ut Weelam Ngargee is the Indigenous festival uniting communities and breaking down stereotypes

Yaluk-ut Weelam Ngargee is the Indigenous festival uniting communities and breaking down stereotypes

Photo by Wayne Quilliam
Words by Annie-Mei Forster

It’s time we got more acquainted with First Nations culture.

Yaluk-ut Weelam Ngargee is a free annual celebration of Australia’s Indigenous cultures. It returns next month with another great lineup of Indigenous artists from around the country. Yaluk-ut Weelam means ‘people of the river’ and is a clan belonging to the Boon Wurrung people who resided in the Port Phillip area, commonly known today as St Kilda. The festival loosely means ‘People, Place, Gathering’ and hopes to bring people together who are both Indigenous and non- Indigenous.

Now in its fifteenth year, the City of Port Phillip worked with the Boon Wurrung people to create a program showcasing different Australian Indigenous cultures through music, dance, film, technology, a marketplace and a sustainability program.

Over the years, the festival has hosted great Australian talent including Archie Roach, Lady Lash and Dan Sultan, just to name a few. This year, the festival promises as good a music lineup as previous years, with both new talent and some familiar faces too.

Festival Producer Fred Gesha says Yaluk- ut Weelam Ngargee is an important event because it’s a chance for people from all over Australia to come together.

“It’s a chance for the whole community to get involved and to be exposed to different indigenous cultures and languages.”

Headlining this year’s 2020 music instalment are Emma Donovan & The Putbacks. Donovan is a revered Indigenous vocalist who has forged quite the reputation alongside Melbourne rhythm combo The Putbacks. Expect to hear tracks from 2014’s critically acclaimed Dawn, an album that brought us ‘My Goodness’ and cultural anthem ‘Black Woman’.

Coloured Stone have been around since the ‘70s and are recognised worldwide for their mix of rock, ska, reggae and unique Aboriginal sound that incorporates traditional instruments such as clap sticks, didgeridoo and bundawuthada (gong stone). They’ll perform at 2:20pm; for a truly special cultural experience.

The festival has incorporated more inclusive activities over the years such as market stalls and cooking demonstrations that showcase different aspects of Indigenous culture.

Gesha says it’s important to break down the stereotypes of Indigenous culture. “People think of Aboriginal culture as didgeridoos and clap sticks, which is fine but not all indigenous tribes use those instruments.”

Gesha says while dot paintings and traditional languages are some of the things that immediately spring to mind when people think of Aboriginal culture, it’s much more dynamic than that.

“We’re still practicing our culture and we’re using the latest technology to share that with the community.”

Since the inauguration of Yaluk-ut Weelam Ngargee, Indigenous artists have come along and it’s now the norm to see such musicians picked up by triple j Unearthed. These artists have played at music festivals around the country and have created their own unique space and sound; Baker Boy and Alice Skye stand as just two examples of the stellar rise in Indigenous representation.

Storytelling is a big part of Indigenous culture and Gesha says many Indigenous artists are drawing on their culture to create innovative music, weaving storytelling into their rhythm and beats.

“Indigenous artists are using the latest technology to create music. Yet, they’re still remembering traditional values and discussing issues that affected us in the past and that still affect us today.”

Last year’s event focused on Indigenous women in rock, and the organisers ensure that there is an even representation of men and women each year. Alice Skye and Mojo Juju, two previous Yaluk-ut Weelam Ngargee performers, both picked up awards at the 2019 Australian Women in Music Awards.

Mojo Juju also received Album and Song of the Year at the prestigious 2019 National Indigenous Music Awards, with her music resonating with fans all across the country and beyond.

On top of the music, there will be plenty of other activities and market stalls for the whole family to enjoy. Torres Strait owned and run business Mabu Mabu, will hold a cooking demo on the day to expose people to Indigenous food. There’ll also be an Indigenous hip hop class and a Bush Animals workshop, run by Aunty Bronwyn from Mirrnong Minnie, to keep the kids entertained.

There are around 500 nations and languages that make up this country with thousands of dialects, making us more culturally diverse than Europe. “‘Aboriginal’ is an all-encompassing word that doesn’t express the diversity of the way we look, the way we sound and our customs,” Gesha says.

Yaluk-ut Weelam Ngargee has been a champion of young people in the arts with a focus on the next generation of musicians. Gesha says he’s most looking forward to the bands but also the great family atmosphere. He enjoys meeting people who come down to check out the event and the safe space they have created.

Check out Yaluk-ut Weelam Ngargee on Saturday February 1 at O’Donnell Gardens next to Luna Park in St Kilda. The event is free and runs from 11am until 7pm. For more info, visit ywnf.com.au.