by Joseph Ratcliffe
While much of Australia celebrates the arrival of the First Fleet on January 26, Victoria Park in Sydney is transformed for the annual Yabun Festival that celebrates the survival of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. However, cutbacks in funding could threaten the festival’s future.
The 2014 Yabun Festival, organised by Koori Radio, a part of the Gadigal Information Service Aboriginal Corporation, will once again coincide with Australia Day to present the best of Indigenous music, dance, ideas, and sport.”
“What you get out of it is an experience of Aboriginal culture,” says Kieran Satour, Events Production Co-ordinator at Koori Radio, who will be organising the festival for the first time. “ And you could learn a lot about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living today and how our culture has adapted to urban life.”
At this year’s Festival, there were a number of stages and tents presenting a program that ranged from music and sports, to panel discussions and speakers. The two music stages were the Main Stage and the ‘Young, Black, and Deadly’ Stage, and as well as the children’s Jarjum Tent, the Kulture Tent, and the Speak Out Tent.
On the Main Stage, the MCs were burlesque performer Constantina Bush and Redfern Now actor Alec Doomadgee. Musical highlights included JPoint, Thelma Plum, Dizzy Doolan and Vic Simms and the All Star Band. A favourite with the crowd was ARIA award winner Archie Roach who sang the powerful Old Mission Road that tells his story of having been taken from his parents when his was three.
The Festival also included a rock-climbing wall, jumping castle, market stalls, and the Art Embassy that displayed works by indigenous artists. And there were sporting activities hosted by the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence and panels led by Indigenous journalists Brooke Boney and Stan Grant.
However, next year’s Festival will be presented with a small budget than previously. “Yabun Festival 2014 will be scaled back quite a bit. We will only have the Main Stage, so there will be no ‘Young, Black, and Deadly’ Stage. What we are going to do with the Speak Out Tent and the Kulture Tent is combine the two,” Kieran Satour says.
“We’re working with different service providers to find cheaper ways to do things like the Jarjum Tent. Yabun started out as the Survival Day concert, so it was all about the music, and we are seeing a return to that because of our budget,” he says.
Kathy Dodd Farrawell, a Kaanju/Birri woman who has lived in the Glebe area for 40 years, attends the Yabun Festival each year with her family.
“It’s a time to be able to catch up with people you haven’t seen for a while. I think it’s important for the little ones to experience their people meeting up,” she says.
As for the Festival being scaled back, she says it all depends on how it is handled. She accepts that changes have to be made but hopes they are not at the expense of the Festival maintaining a strong connection to community and continuing to include the presenters and young ones.
Yabun Festival also includes a film night on the Friday before January 26 held in association with Leichhardt City Council. Even with the cutbacks in funding, there are plans for Yabun to expand even further beyond the Victoria Park festival and the film night.
Kieran says, “We are looking at expanding so there are satellite festivals around the same time that contribute to that celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander cultures across a one or two week period. Having the satellite events means we can promote different aspects of our culture.”
The cutback in funding doesn’t just mean less tents and stages. Koori Radio is currently searching for extra volunteers in 2014 to help with running the Yabun Festival.
“We always rely on our volunteers and we had about 120 this year, but with the decreased budget, we really want to increase those numbers,” Kieran says.