Experiencing Garma Festival

The monthly column from our Chief Executive Matt Linnegar.

I recently had the absolute privilege to participate in the 2022 Garma Festival in North East Arnhem Land (thanks to the invitation of Telstra). The festival is part of the work of the Yothu Yindi Foundation. It is Australia’s leading Indigenous cultural exchange event and a national hub for major forums with discussion, policy and action formulation, and bringing together Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians through youth forums, art galleries, music, film, song, dance and expo exhibitions. The purpose of the Festival is Reconciliation, education and understanding through sharing culture and traditional practice, promoting and highlighting Yolngu culture, and creating economic opportunities beneficial to northeast Arnhem Land.

Firstly what a profoundly moving, insightful and enjoyable experience it was! I also can’t help but think that I witnessed a moment in history for this country as the Prime Minister announced the plan for a referendum for a Voice to Parliament for First Nations people. I realise there will be a range of views on this important matter, and I do not seek to reflect views other than my own here. What it did make me think about was the history of the ARLF over 30 years – from those early days connecting with the Gooniyandi people in the Kimberley to recognising and respecting the contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and cultural knowledge, to ensuring participation of First Nations people in ARLF programs, to the development and successful introduction of our Milparanga program through our First Nations alumni to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander graduates making up almost 20 per cent of all our alumni.

My Garma experience also made me think about the future and, with not just reconciliation but recognition and sovereignty for First Nations Australians in the spotlight, what will the contribution of ARLF alumni look like? I think all who had the opportunity to go into greater depth on some of the difficult conversations between black and white Australia (and the pathways to greater understanding) in the safe yet challenging environment created in our programs will be better placed to convene, facilitate and contribute to the national conversation. I’m not suggesting what people went through on program was easy or comfortable, but I’m in no doubt it puts us all in a better place to contribute. 

From an ARLF perspective, we do not speak for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We are well placed to convene and facilitate conversations that contribute to the national conversation and will make ourselves available to do so. My own view is to support a pathway to truth-telling, Voice and Treaty. Yet no matter what your view, I hope that you can all draw on your leadership to contribute in a way that demonstrates respect, that seeks to understand the views of others truly, challenges but does not seek to ‘win’, and focuses beyond self on the greater good of the nation.

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