Reflections on Garma

Garma Festival

Early this year, Yothu Yindi Foundation (YYF) invited Barker College to assist with the coordination of the Youth Forum at the 2022 Garma Festival, in recognition of Barker’s partnership with YYF and the Gumtaj people of Gunyangara. For the first time, students from Barker College Hornsby travelled to the Northern Territory to visit Dhupuma Barker and attend this rich cultural event.

Barker’s 16 Senior students were incredibly effective in their work with the Youth Forum and their contribution to Garma was celebrated by all. They met the Prime Minister, the Minister for Indigenous Australians and the Attorney General at the Festival. They also hosted US Ambassador, Her Excellency Caroline Kennedy, and her partner, Dr Edward Schlossberg. Barker students were in attendance during the Head of Barker’s address at the Education Forum. More importantly, they were also in attendance at the Main Forum when the PM outlined a positive response to the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the pathway to a Referendum on Constitutional Recognition of First Nation Peoples in Australia. This was a momentous experience for all who were in attendance.

Whilst it is a small Indigenous school for K-6 students, the work of Dhupuma Barker is playing a role in reshaping not only Remote Education but the role of Independent schools. Head of Barker College, Mr Phillip Heath, said, “It was inspiring to hear the diverse reflections of students, and how being immersed in Indigenous culture has enabled them to look beyond the School gates, to the incredible work being done in communities to build opportunities and provide choices to First Nations Peoples.”


“Our challenge to the 16 students selected for this trip is to carry this experience forth into their own worlds, as leaders, as citizens and to be champions for the rights of Indigenous Australians.”

The word Garma is a Yolŋu word meaning two-way learning, and it couldn’t be more apt for the event. The Garma Festival is widely recognised as Australia’s premier Indigenous Festival. It is a coming together of Yolŋu, other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Balanda peoples to discuss key issues, learn together and celebrate Yolŋu Culture. The theme for 2022 was Nhaŋa Ŋathilyurra, a Yolŋu phrase meaning to look ahead towards the future.

The festival had three key components all running concurrently – the Key Forum, The Youth Forum and Cultural events and activities. The Key forum involved First Nations leaders, political leaders and experts in fields of education, health, economics and other key areas discussing issues that are pertinent to First Nations people and our Nation as a whole. It was here that Anthony Albanese, PM delivered the Key Address, a pivotal moment in time where he again committed to enshrining an Indigenous Voice into our Constitution and announced the proposed question for the referendum. It was both inspiring and humbling for Barker’s students and staff to be there for that moment.

Throughout the four days, Cultural workshops and activities were on offer throughout the program. Barker students and staff learnt weaving, experienced ancient ceremonies, and learnt about Yolŋu traditional medicine, stories and language. Every evening they watched in awe as dancers hit the Buŋgul ground to perform traditional ceremonial dances. In these highly significant traditional ceremonies, Elders, men, women and children performed ancient dances while senior holders of the Yolŋu songlines shared their songs and music. It was truly a breathtakingly spectacular experience and one that the students and staff will never forget.


It was also an absolute highlight to see the Dhupuma Barker students performing at the Festival, and watch the friendships and connection develop between the students from Hornsby and the Dhupuma Barker students and staff.

Year 12 Barker student, Charlie, reflected on his experience.  “I learned just how much of a privilege it is to be immersed in a culture with such a rich and long history, and it was clear how enjoyable and moving the experience was for everyone at the festival. Garma is such an important event because it shows what is possible, and it is my hope that this spirit of collaboration and two-way learning between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples can be a defining part of the future across our nation.”

Similarly, for Year 12 student, Yue Hun, who shared, “ The experience also demonstrated the vast difference between learning about Indigenous cultures in the classroom compared to learning about Indigenous cultures on country through practical participation, with the latter illustrating the importance of cultural festivals such as Garma to introduce the wider Australian population to this enriching heritage.”

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