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Barunga Festival

“If you’re wasting your long weekend watching the footy, you should be at Barunga instead,” declares festival director Mark Grosse.

He makes a damn fine point. The annual three-day festival in the Top End Aboriginal community of Barunga, south of Katherine, is probably the only festival in the country that celebrates sport, music and culture with equal passion.

Every Queen’s Birthday long-weekend, the small community opens its arms to thousands of visitors, who set up camp in its Eucalypt-strewn grounds to spend a weekend among an Aboriginal community, listening to top music acts, cheering the footy and enjoying exceptional culture.

This year’s musical line-up, headlined by Missy Higgins, includes Coloured Stone (who mark their 40 year anniversary), B2M and Lonely Boys. Many more Indigenous bands from the Territory also play and for kids, Justine Clark returns.

“It’s a really social event. I mean that in the context of non-Indigenous people having the opportunity to sit with Indigenous people, and not at a highbrow event,” says Grosse.

10 years have passed since Warumpi Band frontman and icon George Rrurrambu Burarrwanga died,  and a special musical or cultural performance will take place to remember him.

As usual, the main stage will be devoted to the big-name acts where dancing is a must, and the smaller APRA stage by the creek will host more intimate acoustic performances.

“When community bands come we tell them they have to play an acoustic set on the APRA stage. For the first time in their lives they play for a white audience, listening intently to their songs,” says Grosse. 

“It gives young Indigenous musiciansthe opportunity to try something different in front of a tough but very sympathetic audience.”

For the Sunday night finale, Skinny Soundsystem remixes the best little-heard tracks of Skinnyfish Records’ enormous back catalogue into a late night party act, with a live didgeridoo player and back-up singers.

“It was a big hit at Perth’s art festival,” says Grosse.  

"We think it will take Australia by storm.”

See the event listing.

Q&A with Missy Higgins.

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