The Garma and Bawaka experience is something that one person can’t really summarise because it’s such a personal experience. So rather than getting one of us to describe our personal highs and lows of the trip, we have banded together to bring you some short messages, photos and memories. Whether this program strikes you as realistic, tokenistic, positive, intellectually stimulating or simply stupid, know that it will challenge you. You will leave with more questions than answers and the realization that reconciliation is one hell of a job.
I arrived at Garma with what I’d call a second-hand experience of a number of indigenous issues, given that I have relatives in the Northern Territory who have both worked with people from a number of the communities around Alice Springs, and who foster a number of indigenous children. I knew some of what to expect in that sense, but hearing it first hand from the people themselves, and seeing the positive things they’ve done, was deeply inspiring. However, I was somewhat disheartened by the other side of this ‘’us-and-them’ dialectic – the political side of things – which to me seemed more concerned with winning votes than facilitating any long term cooperation or solution.
- James Pilbrow
As a newcomer to Australia, I found the Yolngu people’s Welcome to Country to be profoundly moving. I can still hear their shouts echoing through the forest as we waited in the Key Forum for Garma to begin and will never forget seeing for the first time the magnificence of the ancient Yolngu culture emerge from trees, bodies painted fantastically, the Didjeridu high on the air. It was a moment of profound significance for me, and though I have been in Australia since February, it wasn’t until the Yolgnu’s Welcome to Country in that spiritual place that I feel I caught a true glimpse of the ancient spirit and culture of Australia.
- Chelsea Judy
The best part was catching mullet in a gill net at Bawaka, making a fire on the beach, throwing the fish straight onto the hot coals, making a plate from a paperbark tree, and then eating the fish with my fingers while the sun, low in the sky, turned the water metallic hues of mauve, grey, and blue.
- Rob Leach
Seeing communities come together and take responsibility for their situations and implement strategies to take control of their future was inspiring. To know that they are aware of the welfare and dependency trap created by government handouts sparked a new kind of hope and interest in indigenous affairs for me. But when we arrived at Bawaka, I thought being able to choose my ‘skin name’ was tokenistic and insulting, because I know the role that ‘skins names’ play in reality, and the significance it has when a non-indigenous person is given one. But the different experiences, connections and opinions of the group made sure that every day my perceptions were challenged. There may have been parts of this journey I did not agree with, but it can’t be said that we haven’t come out of this experience challenged, changed, and more educated than when we began.
- Steve Crawford
I am Aboriginal and from the NT, so I am already familiar with many of the issues faced by Indigenous Australians. Although I still gained invaluable insights and knowledge at the Garma forum, I took huge interest in the reactions of my peers. It highlighted the lack of proper education in indigenous issues and reinforced how important a festival like Garma is in illuminating both the problems facing Indigenous communities and their successes. I loved that the trip ignited interest and inspired us all to become more involved in closing the gap for indigenous Australians. Garma 2014 – You HAVE to apply.
- Nina Fitzgerald
There is no doubt that I have come away from the Garma/Bawaka experience with many more questions than I have answers. The key forum sessions – spanning a range of diverse topics such as education, infrastructure, constitutional reform, culture and community empowerment – were deeply challenging and thought provoking. There is no doubt that these issues are multifaceted and complex, with no straightforward answer. The broad range of competing perspectives that we were exposed to highlighted the difficulty of overcoming dissidence – not only between government and the local people, but from within communities and even members of the same family. Despite this, we were inspired by the persistent and pragmatic optimism of the many courageous and eloquent leaders who shared their stories and honest opinions with us.
- Brigid O’Farrell
The Garma Festival and Bawaka experience provided me with the opportunity to further my knowledge of Indigenous culture, which truly began this year when I decided to major in Australian Indigenous Studies. Watching the women and men from Gulkula and surrounding areas perform the Bunggul each afternoon was an event that I will never forget. However, as enriching as the performance was, I couldn’t help but feel a certain sadness that it has taken me twenty-one years to experience this rich and diverse culture of our First Nations people. In keeping with the values of the Garma festival, I feel education is the key. Not only of young Indigenous Australians, but of the wider non-Indigenous Australian community to ensure that we can grow and learn from each other.
- Emily Corbett.
For me, the whole trip was a journey which took me outside of my comfort zone and was so rewarding! Having never been overseas, Arnhem Land was the furthest from home I’d ever been. The Australian landscape for starters was far more beautiful and astonishing than I could have imagined. The Yolngu people had such a rich culture that they had fought to preserve for so many years. I loved hearing their stories and seeing so many proud Yolngu do so much for their families and the community. Seeing the children have such an imbedded, strong sense of culture at such a young age was really special for me.
- Triny O’Brien