Last Thursday I travelled to Nhulunbuy in North-East Arnhem land as part of the University of Melbourne contingent attending the five-day annual Garma Festival. Each August more than 2,650 people attend Garma, the largest Indigenous gathering in Australia, hosted by the Yothu Yindi Foundation and situated at Gulkala, a cultural gathering place for the Gumatj clan.
The University of Melbourne is a principal sponsor of Garma as part of its commitment to national reconciliation with Indigenous Australians. This year staff from across the University attended including the Vice-Chancellor Professor Duncan Maskell, the Associate Provost, Professor Marcia Langton, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Indigenous, Professor Shaun Ewen, the Dean of Arts, Professor Russell Goulbourne and 30 other University staff. The University’s program at Garma focused on discussions around projects in health, education, cultural heritage, leadership and cultural development and included a commitment to open an Indigenous Knowledge Institute and contribute to the setup of a bush University. On Saturday, at the Pathways through Partnership forum, Bernadette Murphy, from the Youth Research Centre, gave a well-received presentation on MGSE’s involvement with the Yirrkala Homelands School.
We all stayed in tents amongst the stringybark forest of Gulkala and attended a rich program of activities from traditional dance and guided on country walks to more formal dialogues and forums including a session co-hosted by the University and the Yothu Yindi Foundation. There were also speeches from many of the Garma participants including the Chairman of the Youth Yindi Foundation, Mr Galarrwuy Yunupingu AM, The Hon. Ken Wyatt, Minister for Indigenous Affairs and the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Anthony Albanese.
It was a well organised, meaningful and emotional experience which encompassed a recognition of the challenges faced in Closing the Gap (with only two of the seven 2019 targets on track to be met – early childhood education and year 12 attainment) and the need to implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart including constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians.
Garma provides an opportunity to become absorbed in the culture, landscape and philosophy of Indigenous Australians and to focus on listening and learning, both at the formal proceedings and through the art, ceremonies and informal conversations. I feel extremely fortunate to have been part of what has become Australia’s leading Indigenous policy forum.
My thanks to Professor John Polesel who will be the Acting Dean over the next two weeks as I take a long-anticipated holiday with my family.
The MGSE Dialogues will be held next week and I encourage all staff to attend their particular session and I will look forward to a report from John and Keryn about the conversations and topics raised upon my return.