2015 Yabun Festival

The word Yabun means “music to a beat” in traditional Gadigal language and that sentiment rang true for the 2015 event.

On January 26, Sydney’s Victoria Park hosted a diverse program of activities, events and performances, building on a successful 2014 event, which attracted over 10,000 people and confirmed Yabun as one of Australia’s largest Indigenous cultural events.

The day was co-hosted by communications professional and NITV personality Mayrah Sonter and comedian Sean Choolburra, who introduced acts to the main stage such as Jimblah, Stephen Pigram, Mau Power and Elaine Crombie.

Around the park, there were also a series of tents for activities, panel discussions, including the Jarjums Tent, which offered a session with children’s author David Hardy and a central Corroboree ground, featuring performances from the Koomurri dancers and Gomeroi Mirii Yulugi.

A Kulture tent hosted arts discussions on the significance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander hip-hop, the future of the dance industry and the emergence of new writers like Nardi Simpson and Robyn Ridgeway. Yabun’s Speakout tent touched on issues of cultural expression in the digital age and a Black Diggers’ perspective of the ANZAC centenary.

Aside from the strong celebratory aspect, the day holds a special meaning for many in the Aboriginal community in acknowledging the survival of a people.

Yabun co-host Mayrah Sonter described it as “a great celebration of the mob, whatever that mob looks like.”

“I hope both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people enjoy this inclusive day of culture and art,” she said. “It’s just a very welcoming vibe and a celebration of the oldest continuing culture on earth. I’m very proud to be a member of that.”

Tharawal Aboriginal Medical Service CEO Darryl Wright said: “It’s important to remind non-Indigenous people and our own people that we are the oldest culture in the world and we should be proud of that and Australia should be proud of that.”

As Yabun has grown and evolved over the years, it has also become a place for different communities and organisations to come together and discuss topical issues affecting Aboriginal people. It also demonstrates how far Yabun has come from very humble beginnings.

Gadigal Information Service CEO Cathy Craigie said: “It has really built. It started off with just a stage with a couple of musicians and these days you look around and there are tents everywhere, there is politics being spoken about and arts being talked about and practiced. It’s all about everybody. It doesn’t matter what your political stance is, it’s about coming together as people.”

This year, the NSW Aboriginal Land Council hosted a forum in the Speakout tent called “Our Land, Our Unfinished Business”.

“It was a discussion about how we involve youth in the Land Rights network but I think it was also insightful around issues of economic opportunity, the value of the Land Rights system and how relevant it is in today’s environment,” NSWALC Chairperson Craig Cromelin said. “I think the more people who are informed about how the Land Rights system operates, the benefits that it delivers for people and more importantly how they can get involved, then that all bodes well for encouraging more people to get involved in their local Land Councils.”

Warren Mundine, Chair of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, who delivered the Kevin Cook lecture at Yabun, echoed the importance of having these discussions at the event.

“Our Land Rights have strengthened a lot for us culturally and economically, so it’s just really important to keep on talking about these things, about the direction we need to head in and about our culture,” he said.

Yabun organisers are conscious of keeping these conversations going by creating a space for members of the Aboriginal and non Aboriginal communities to come together, as well as creating a space for different generations to connect and learn from each other.

Student Zac Collins-Widders from Armidale said he enjoyed being able to connect with Elders. “Yabun is a great way to connect with all the Aboriginal people around Sydney and the Sydney area. You also get to talk to the Elders about lots of big issues. It’s a really good experience for young Indigenous people because we are talking about the things that will be affecting our future.”

Whether people come to Yabun for the music, entertainment, food, or to engage in serious discussion and debate, organisers hope that everyone enjoys a positive, inclusive and welcoming atmosphere.

First-time Yabun performer Russell Dawson from the Koomurri Dancers, summed up the true meaning of Yabun, when asked what he hoped people gained from the experience.

“I think the most important messages from Yabun for everyone are feeling free, feeling culture and embracing our spirit,” he said.

NSWALC was proud to sponsor the Yabun Festival, which was organised by the Gadigal Information Service Aboriginal Corporation and was broadcast on NITV throughout the day as well as streamed live on Sydney’s Koori Radio.