For nearly 20 years, the ancient sound of the Yidaki (didgeridoo) has marked the start of the annual Garma festival. It’s a call to all people to come together in unity, to gather for the sharing of knowledge and culture and to learn from and listen to one another.

The festival attracts thousands of people from all over the world to celebrate Australian Indigenous knowledge and culture. It is also an important forum to discuss issues affecting Indigenous Australians.

The festival’s 2017 theme is “Go! bukulundhun makarrata wu” or “Settling our differences”. In traditional Yolngu culture, a “makarrata” was a peace-making ceremony to heal divisions of the past between disputing clans.

“Reconciliation won’t end with a single act or gesture, but we have to keep working together and there has to be give and take on both sides of the fence,” said Denise Bowden, chief executive, Yothu Yindi Foundation.


Our partnership with
the Yolngu people

Our partnership with
the Yolngu people

Rio Tinto’s operations are situated on extensive deposits of high-grade bauxite, a burnished red ore with high aluminium oxide content, located on Aboriginal land on the Gove Peninsula in North East Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.

Rio Tinto’s operations are situated on extensive deposits of high-grade bauxite, a burnished red ore with high aluminium oxide content, located on Aboriginal land on the Gove Peninsula in North East Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.

We supply this bauxite to domestic and international markets.

We have a formal Agreement with Yolngu Traditional Owners, which acknowledges rights to land and provides significant long-term mutual benefits.

The Agreement captures the aspirations of the Gove operations and Traditional Owners to work together to create intergenerational benefits. Creating sustainable economic, cultural, social and environmental outcomes for the signatory groups and communities is paramount.

Rio Tinto is a principal sponsor of the Garma festival (4-7 August 2017), and has supported the festival for ten years.

Here are five things to know about one of Australia’s most important cultural festivals:

1. Garma literally means saltwater and freshwater mixing together and moving onwards. This is the concept behind the Garma festival – a cultural exchange of knowledge and ideas. Each year 2,500 business, political, academic and community leaders come together at the festival and exchange ideas, while also celebrating and preserving cultural traditions.

2. The Garma festival is held at Gulkula in northeast Arnhem Land, about 1,000km from Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory. The Arnhem Land region includes nearly 100,000km2 of Aboriginal owned land, and is one of Australia’s last strongholds of traditional Aboriginal culture. It has been home to the Yolngu people for at least 50 thousand years. Today, the Yolngu clans live throughout Arnhem Land much like they always have – hunting fish, bush animals and seasonal bush foods.

3. The local Yolngu people have been at the forefront of the struggle for Aboriginal land rights in Australia. In 1963, following a unilateral government decision to excise a part of their land for a bauxite mine, the Yolngu people from Yirrkala sent a petition, written on bark, to the Australian House of Representatives. The bark petition attracted international attention, and now hangs in Parliament House as a testament to the Yolngu role in the birth of the Aboriginal land rights movement.


What if Shakespeare never
wrote Romeo and Juliet?

What if Shakespeare never
wrote Romeo and Juliet?

One of the Garma festival’s goals is to prevent Australia’s Indigenous culture from disappearing.

One of the Garma festival’s goals is to prevent Australia’s Indigenous culture from disappearing.

The loss of language – and the knowledge and history that goes with it – is an issue facing many cultures around the world. In Australia, nearly half of our Indigenous languages have been lost since European settlement. Many more are at risk of being lost as Elders pass on.

Sharyn Derschow’s mother was just four years old when she was taken from her family and sent to Mogumber mission in Western Australia. Sharyn’s story highlights the profound impact the loss of Indigenous languages can have on cultural identity and heritage.

Read Sharyn’s story

4. The Yolngu band Yothu Yindi became a household name throughout Australia in 1991 with their song “Treaty” – the first song by an Aboriginal band to chart in Australia. The song demonstrated the dedication of the Yolngu people to the cause of reconciliation, land rights and a desire for broader recognition of their culture and law. The band helped establish the Yothu Yindi Foundation (YYF), which runs the Garma festival.

5. YYF’s mission is for Yolngu and other Indigenous Australians to have the same level of wellbeing and life opportunities as non-Indigenous Australians. Denise Bowden explained in 2016: “It is based on the inspiration of Ganbulapula [an Ancestor] himself who looked up through the stringybark trees at Gulkula, through the honey bees that were circling within its leaves and dreamed of a brighter future.”

Partnering for progress

Partnering for progress

In the early 1990s, Rio Tinto was the first mining company to grasp the spirit of reconciliation and apply Australia’s Native Title Act.

In the early 1990s, Rio Tinto was the first mining company to grasp the spirit of reconciliation and apply Australia’s Native Title Act.

Rio Tinto now has more than 40 Indigenous agreements in place globally, including its bauxite mining operations in North East Arnhem Land.

Find out more

Rio Tinto acknowledges the recent passing of Dr G Yunupingu. Sharing his passion for Yolngu culture and language on the world stage through song, brought people from all walks of life together.

Rio Tinto shares its sincere sympathies for the families and communities of North East Arnhem Land.

 

Lead image: The 2014 Garma festival. Image courtesy of Yothu Yindi Foundation.

Acknowledgements: Garma festival website