Have you ever had an experience that is both humbling and exhilarating? That’s how people who have experienced Garma Festival describe it. Garma Festival is Australia’s largest Indigenous gathering, a vibrant 4-day celebration of Yolngu life and culture, held in remote northeast Arnhem Land.
Hosted by the Yothu Yindi Foundation, Garma showcases traditional miny’tji (art), manikay (song), bunggul (dance) and storytelling, and is an important meeting point for First Nations peoples from all over the Northern Territory, as well as from some remote locations including Grude Island, Tiwi Islands, and the surrounds.
The festival’s overriding cultural mission is to provide a contemporary environment for the expression and presentation of traditional Yolngu knowledge systems and customs, and to share these practices in an authentic Yolngu setting.
Vivir Healthcare Volunteer at Garma Festival 2023
This year’s festival was held in August, and Vivir Healthcare’s Northern State Operations Manager, Luke Ellis, along with 6 other team members from across our parent company, RGF Staffing APEJ, had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of taking part in an 11-day immersive volunteering program. Our team members spent their time assisting the Garma site crew setting up and packing down the festival (including 2000 tents!), as well as a range of other tasks from hospitality and logistics to administration and site management.
Luke assisted in warehousing and logistics and spent so much time on forklift that that he quickly gained the nickname ‘Forklift Luke’, which stayed with him throughout the festival. And which will now be immortalised in our blog.
We asked Forklift Luke for some of his highlights. Here’s what he had to say…
Witnessing the Live Q and A Program
One of the highlights was witnessing a live Q&A program where experts shared their insights on various aspects of First Nations culture, history, and contemporary issues. The discussions were thought-provoking and enlightening, broadening my understanding of the challenges and triumphs of Indigenous communities.
Meeting Valerie, an Aboriginal Elder
Perhaps one of the most moving encounters was meeting Valerie, an Aboriginal elder. Her warmth, wisdom, and artistic talents left a lasting impression on me. I was fortunate to purchase one of her beautiful artworks, a piece that now serves as a cherished memento of our meeting and a symbol of my connection to her culture.
Taking Part in a Healing Ceremony
Participating in a healing ceremony was an incredibly powerful experience. The spirituality and traditions that enveloped this event were a testament to the resilience and strength of First Nations peoples. It was a privilege to be included in this sacred practice and to learn about the significance it holds within their culture.
Helping Build the Largest Cinema in Arnhem Land
Contributing to the construction of the largest cinema in Arnhem Land was another remarkable experience. It was a tangible way to support the local community and foster cultural exchange through the medium of film. Knowing that this cinema would become a hub for storytelling and community gatherings made the hard work even more rewarding.
Bush Medicine Educational Walk
Exploring the world of bush medicine during an educational walk was both enlightening and practical. Learning about the diverse array of plants and their traditional uses underscored the importance of preserving this knowledge for future generations.
Opening and Closing Bungul Dances
The grand finale of the event was marked by the captivating Bungul dances. Being a part of the opening and closing ceremonies was a breathtaking experience. The energy, colors, and stories conveyed through dance were truly awe-inspiring.
Vivir Healthcare, in collaboration with their parent company RGF Staffing APEJ, aims to participate again in Garma’s volunteer programs. Providing more employees with this truly unique opportunity to connect with the rich cultural heritage of the Yolngu people and gain a deeper understanding of their traditions. It will also allow us to continue fostering a sense of unity and cultural exchange, aligning with our commitments in our Reconciliation Action Plan.