The 2022 Giiyong Festival is all about community: Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities gathering together to celebrate the best of First Nations music, spoken word, culture and resilience.
Meaning “come to welcome” in the language spoken by South Coast NSW elders, the first Giiyong Festival attracted more than 6000 people in 2018. It returns on 9 April with South East Arts working with Indigenous communities to present the event on the far South Coast at Jigamy, between Pambula and Eden.
Executive director of South East Arts Andrew Gray said with COVID lockdowns delaying this year’s event, the three groups involved – Eden Local Aboriginal Land Council, Twofold Corporation and South East Arts – had been working together since the last festival to make it happen. The small group of organisers is boosted by more than 70 volunteers all committed to spreading the Indigenous word through music and culture.
“The communities said they wanted this festival so it’s driven by them, by their desire to have it. We’ve been invited to come in to provide whatever help we can to make it happen,” Andrew said.
This year’s festival will showcase the best of the nation’s Indigenous talent, with acclaimed rapper Briggs headlining the event along with singer-songwriter Shellie Morris, classic performer William Barton (Australia’s answer to BB King), the Buddy Knox Band and Sean Choolburra acting as festival MC.
Although this year’s festival is expected to draw a large crowd, Andrew Gray said the follow-on effects of such an event were just as valuable as the festival itself.
“The festival gives up-and-coming local Yuin performers the opportunity to share the stage with big names like Shellie Morris, Sean Chooburra and the Stiff Gins,” he said.
“It’s really about what happens before and afterwards, that is as important as the event itself,” Andrew said.
“In the lead-up, we’re creating content – like the Giiyong Gumleaf Band, for example, pulled together by Uncle Ossie Cruse to commemorate 100 years of gumleaf bands. We’re also putting a CD together of eight of the musicians performing – what this does is help kickstart careers, give people pride and enthusiasm in their work.
“The whole aim is to showcase this amazing culture we have.”
The South East Arts region stretches from Batemans Bay to the border. Andrew said more than 6000 people attended the first event in 2018 with about 20 per cent Indigenous Australians. About a third of visitors came from outside the south-east NSW region – Canberra, Victoria and Sydney.
“This year, we’ve already had more than 1000 registrations,” Andrew said. “But for us, the measure of success is not how many people come through the gate, but how many Indigenous people attend.
“We know there is strong interest in the non-Indigenous community. We want to bring in more Indigenous people who may be going to other events like the football. It’s all about bringing the whole community together. Word of mouth works well with Indigenous groups, amazingly spookily so sometimes.”
Organisers have put together this year’s program to appeal to the widest of audiences while showcasing the best Indigenous talent in the region.
They include the Djaadjawan Dancers from the Yuin Nation of NSW – a group of girls, women and elders from Wallaga Lakes, Narooma and La Perouse who, in every performance, showcase through dance their culture, music and dress. Other artists include the Stiff Gins – their name is a reclamation of the offensive title given to Indigenous women, hip hop artist Dizzy Doolan, Nowra’s own musician Nooky who uses music as a healing process and Richard Luland, a Koori man who expresses his heritage through his music.
The event will also feature an artists’ market, a pre-colonial campsite display created by Far South Coast high school students, Indigenous cultural displays, food, dance and spoken word performances.
The all-age, alcohol-free festival is held on the Jigamy property, owned by the Twofold Aboriginal Corporation, just north of Eden.
Tickets and more information are available from the 2022 Giiyong Festival website.