Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival is a celebration of aboriginal dance and culture and is is one of Australia’s largest indigenous festivals. It takes place Biannually in Cape York Peninsula at the site of a traditional Bora ground that is sacred to the aboriginal community and surrounded by some of the oldest rock art in the world. Cathy Finch travelled to the festival in an Apollo Motorhome as a guest of Tourism Queensland. The Over 5000 visitors attended the festival, offering a unique insight into the community and providing an opportunity to spread cultural traditions to new generations. ” It is an extraordinary opportunity for the average Australian to see what is rarely seen and celebrate our unity as a nation. For me, it has been a privilege to be present and take part” Cathy Finch
You don’t just watch the – dance you feel it. It reverberates through every part of your body.” It was a comment made by one of the first spectators we speak with at the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival. Surrounded by sprawling bushland and sitting amid walls of elaborate sandstone decorated with ancient Quinkan rock art, the Ang-Gnarra Festival ground draws dance groups from more than 20 indigenous communities across the Cape and beyond. It is a festival close to the hearts of the Aboriginal people, a rhythmic celebration of the world’s oldest living culture. We have driven the 330km north from Cairns in our Apollo motorhome, along largely sealed roads, and are greeted at the festival entrance by agent “welcoming us home”. “Mama, Papa, them all gearing up, everybody’s getting ready. Enjoy yourselves,” he enthuses. We park our motor home, which allows us to be self-sufficient, whilemany others set up camp and use the facilities brought into the grounds to cater for the crowds. This area has long been an old traditional Bora (dance) ground where mobs have gathered to dance since the beginning of time. However, for the past 25 years it has also become the official site of what is now known as one of Australia’s largest indigenous dance festivals. As the late afternoon light streams through the gum trees, we gather around for a welcome to the country by Tommy George, an elder of the Kuku Thaypan people, followed by a welcome performance from each visiting mob. The sound of didgeridoos and clapsticks reverberates through the air as each group stomps up a storm of dust, which silhouettes their rhythmicbodies painted elaborately in stark white ochre. It is a captivating display that tells stories of hunting, gathering and celebration through the swirling puffs of earth. The best is left for the following day, however, when we are treated to the crescendo of dance as the communities compete with each other to take home the champion dance shield. This year Lockhart River prevails with a ground-stomping presentation and the audience is encouraged to “clap along OK, then you see some deadly, deadly shake-a-leg”. It is an exhilarating afternoon that runs well into the evening and continues under the stars.
Next morning, while the early riserswarm their hands by crackling campfires, we take the opportunity to experience an invigorating helicopter flight into the nearby Giant Horse Gallery, a Quinkan Rock Art site. A six-metre long and three-metre high horse dominates the gallery amid many other images depicting stories and records from the ancestors of this area. These galleries provide occupational evidence of more than 50,000 years and, with paintings layered one on top of the other, the harder you look, the more you find. Back at the Bora ground the sounds of voices and pounding feet have once again begun as the Aboriginal people continue to showcase their pride and uniqueness. This entire weekend has been a gathering by the people, for the people, where dancing is not just dancing it’s a cultural interaction where stories are traded, cultures are traded, and generations of young and old indigenous come together to maintain their spirit as a people. For me, it has been a privilege to be present and take part.