YIRRAMBOI Festival sees First Nations art and culture take centre stage, where it belongs

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YIRRAMBOI Festival sees First Nations art and culture take centre stage, where it belongs

Briefs Factory International (YIRRAMBOI's closing night party) - image by Kate Pardey
Words by Sam Howard

Across 11 days, YIRRAMBOI Festival will showcase over 150 events from more than 250 First Nations artists.

From Thursday May 6 until Sunday May 16, more than 250 First Nations artists will come together to present Melbourne’s YIRRAMBOI Festival, featuring over 150 events championing the evolution and diversity of cultures dating back more than 65,000 years.

YIRRAMBOI, meaning “tomorrow” in the shared languages of the Boonwurrung and Woiwurrung people, will feature theatre, film, exhibitions, talks, fashion parades, family-friendly events, circus performances, drag and much more with no two events being the same.

“This is an opportunity to celebrate the sophistication of the oldest living cultures in the world through the practice of creativity,” says Caroline Martin, a Boonwurrung and Wemba Wemba woman, and Creative Director of YIRRAMBOI Festival.

Keep up to date with all the festival features, news and reviews here.

The festival will be the first time that many local institutions and partners have collaborated to promote and provide a space to celebrate First Nations cultures.

With a strong focus on evolution and the future, hundreds of creatives will showcase the uniqueness of how different cultures are practiced through a variety of mediums. Attendees will get the chance to engage in a myriad of entertaining and informative events, while also providing an economic opportunity for creatives to be featured and have light shone on their work.

“When our people are seen and shine, it enables us all to shine. Our people don’t have an opportunity to be seen – our kids are growing up in this country and not seeing themselves reflected anywhere. This is an opportunity to enable people to not only see it is as something incredibly significant – whilst it’s our cultures, it’s actually everyone in Australia’s history too.”


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First Nations peoples have long been pigeonholed, perceived through a Western lens that often boxes Indigenous culture into practices such as dot painting, didgeridoo playing and dancing. Yet celebrating Indigenous culture and spirit, across thousands of centuries, comes in thousands of different forms.

“This festival is about evolution because if we didn’t evolve and were stagnant, our people wouldn’t have lasted. More than 4,000 generations of cultural practice – who we are as people – will never change. But the evolution is how we practice our cultures now,” Martin continues.

“The principles are the same – we honour our ancestors and our country, and acknowledge we are the country. Our cultures and identities are celebrated in different ways.”

While it’s not easy to pick out highlights, the festival will feature events including, but not limited to, a political cabaret A Fight For Survival by the Northlands Collective Mob – a fight to save Victoria’s treasured Northland College from being shut down in a move considered an act of systemic racial discrimination.

Arterial is an acrobatic performance by the Na Djinang Circus exploring the ancient connections tying First Nations people together. While Miss First Nation 2021 showcases the talented, sparkly and sassy drag entertainers of Australia’s only national First Nations drag competition.


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Deadly Funny Showcase, in collaboration with Melbourne International Comedy Festival, will feature fresh and funny Blak comedy, while the world premiere of Madhanbaa Mayrraa, from James Henry of the Yuwaalaraay/Gamilaraay and Yorta Yorta/Yuin people, will see the artist take on Melbourne Town Hall’s Grand Organ performing a blend of traditional-style songs in language, infused with techno rhythms and rich sonic textures.

The Capitol will host a three-night takeover of First Nations-produced features and short film, while there will also be films screened at Arts Centre Melbourne and the Royal Botanical Gardens.

Considerable Sexual License will feature a pre-colonial, flirty dive into the true history of sensuality down under, and rapper Ziggy Ramo will appear at Melbourne Recital Centre playing his debut album, Black Thoughts.

YIRRAMBOI is the largest First Nations-led festival of its kind offering a narrative that’s been built by the experts on their own cultures.

“This festival has over 150 events of cultural practice that people probably won’t expect and will be really excited about. There’s cabaret, there’s circus, there’s so much. Every place you turn you’ll come across something different that’s very evocative and celebrative,” Martin said.

“If there’s one thing I hope attendees can take away, it’s that stereotypes are broken. We hope that people will love and celebrate us as much as we love and celebrate us. There is so much to be proud of as a nation – we’re very proud of who we are, and we want everyone to be proud of the sophistication and evolution of their own history too.”

YIRRAMBOI Festival hits Melbourne from Thursday May 6 until Sunday May 16. Find out more here.