‘Bala B’ from TEABBA goes behind the scenes at Malandarri Festival…

— by Kate Rendell

Malandarri Festival Artistic Director Marlene Timothy with Bernard Namok Jnr (Bala B) of TEABBA Radio, photo by Toby Short, courtesy of TEABBA.

We were thrilled that Bernard Namok Jnr (‘Bala B’) and Toby Short of Top End Aboriginal Bush Broadcasting Association (TEABBA) could join us at this year’s Malandarri Festival in June. TEABBA travelled from their studio in Darwin to Borroloola and were excited to soak up the atmosphere, see the performances and speak to the locals, guests and performers. Here, Bala B chats to Festival Director Marlene Timothy and performers Elijah Douglas and Ryan Timothy…

Marlene Timothy –

Borroloola, Malandarri Festival Artistic Director

Malandarri Festival Artistic Director Marlene Timothy introduces the 2018 Festival, photo by Benjamin Warlngundu Bayliss.

MT: This is our fifth year running this festival. It was called DanceSite it started off from Alice Springs, three years there and then three years at Tennant Creek and it moved here and it transitioned into the Malandarri Festival. It’s community owned and it’s my fifth year now running this festival.

BB: What is the main thing that you are showcasing at the festival here in Borroloola?

MT: Well this festival is about showcasing our culture and it’s through song, dance and other people just sharing each other’s culture. Here in Borroloola we have about five dance groups but this year we only have four as the other group won’t be performing this year because of Sorry Business. People want to see other cultures as well, with this festival here we’ve have different cultures performing here. We’ve had Pacific, we’ve had Torres Strait Island also and people just enjoy that, it’s just about coming together and sharing our culture through dance.

BB: The importance of sharing that culture onto younger generations, as a festival coordinator, how important do you think it is to pass on that knowledge down to the young ones?

MT: It is important because when you got a few old ladies left that are singing and would like to pass on that knowledge to younger generations. For instance last night the Doomadgee mob, their singer is so young, he’s way younger than me and that’s really great to see and we’d like to see more of that… I think it’s important for younger ones to carry on so I reckon when older people sing and dance the younger ones should be present, that way they can learn through and things like this they can bring people together. Like today I’ll be sitting a couple of them old ladies cause I’m learning their songs as well with the Garrwa dancers.

BB: What are the main language groups here in Borroloola?

MT: The four language groups here are Mara and Yanyuwa people, they’re the coastal saltwater people and then we got Garrwa and Gurdanji people who are the main land people and Garrwa people are more over to the east towards Queensland and our people here, they’re like Yanyuwa mob, we are traditional owners of this land and our traditional home is out in the sea, we like to share our culture to everyone else when we all come together for this one big event.

BB: And do you like to see this event grow in the future and be open to every other culture to come and enjoy?

MT: Yes, I was looking at the crowd last night and “aye this crowd looking a bit big here! Bigger than last year” and I’m just hoping it’ll grow bigger and bigger every year and we’d like to invite more cultures into our community and invite them here to this festival. Yeah just I want to say next time, like if anybody’s heading down through the Stuart Highway after Barunga Festival head down to our Malandarri Festival.

Elijah Douglas –

visiting performer from Doomadgee

Doomadgee Laginda Sandalwood dancer Elijah Douglas, dancing up at the 2018 Malandarri Festival, photo by Benjamin Warlngundu Bayliss.

BB: Tell me what you do back in Doomadgee?

ED: Well I’m the radio announcer back home. I work for Black Star Radio through the council there and I’m also the community cultural officer, it’s not an official role, it’s a community role so I do all the cultural stuff within our community.

BB: We’re here at Malandarri Festival in Borroloola, you mob travel from Doomadgee, how did that trip take for you guys from there to here?

ED: Yeah so we travelled from Doomadgee and it took nearly about six hours to get from there to here, you know cause it’s all dirt road and so we had to come along pretty steady but yeah we got here safe and sound but yeah all over it took about 6/7 hours to get here.

BB: How many of you mob came from Doomadgee?

ED: So there’s a group of us, our dance group and then there’s some others who just came along to watch the festival just for the enjoyment and the entertainment.

BB: Is there a name for the dance group from Doomadgee?

ED: Our original name was the Gangalidda Dancers and Gangalidda is the name of our river that we live on the side of back home and but we changed our name to the Laginda Dancers and Laginda means the Sandalwood so yeah we renamed our group the Laginda Sandalwood Dancers.

BB: I noticed last night when you were performing that there’s a lot of young people dancing, why do you think it’s important to pass on that knowledge from the older ones down to the younger ones?

ED: Well I think that our culture is very important and our stories are important. One of the ways that we shared and taught our culture was through not only stories and but our dances as well and it’s important for our young people to get up and keep doing our dance, that way our culture lives on you know and we always have that. It’s a part of who we are, we are the first nations people of Australia, we are the people of our country and only we carry our heritage on, you know, our culture and only we can do that and I think it’s important for our young people to continue to do that.

BB: Before I let you go what advice you want to say for our listeners through TEABBA, especially for the young ones and for listeners in general?

ED: Listen if you know anything about your culture, elders, adults, young people, hold onto that knowledge because it is important. I do believe that somewhere down the track our culture will be the centre of all our next generation’s way to move into the new world. I think our culture is very important so you should continue to keep it, practice it, even your language. Up home we only got one language in our community and that language is Layardilda language and I’m actually a speaker of that language, I’m actually they only young person in our community who still speaks it. But listen, if you are out there and you know anything about your culture and your heritage, hold onto it, don’t let it go, keep it, that’s all I can say.

Ryan Timothy –

Borroloola, member of The Sandridge Band

Ryan Timothy performing with The Sandridge Band at the 2018 Malandarri Festival, photo by Benjamin Warlngundu Bayliss.

BB: We’re here at the festival, can you tell me about your role in the festival?

RT: Well I do bits and pieces. I help with organising the event and I’m actually part of a local band called The Sandridge Band and we’re performing as well tonight so that’ll be a good time for me tonight with my band. But for now I’m actually doing a job for Bush TV that I’ve been doing for the last few years that I do once a year.

BB: What do you do for Bush TV?

RT: Well we go around and do interviews, Bush TV is more doing stories on effects of places and Bush TV get involved with Festivals mainly around Northern Territory as well.

BB: Why do you think it’s important for little communities to have a festival like the Malandarri Festival and also exposure of the festivals?

RT: oh well that’s just show the culture and share it with the wider audience round Australia and expose it around the world as well to show that Australia is still rich in culture, so that’s the reason for why we have dance festivals, traditional dancing to show that we still keep our culture strong. So that the next generation can see what we’re doing and they can follow that.

BB: And I’ve seen the next generation following all them dance, songs from just being on the first night here which is a good thing you know because they’re learning the culture and also the language as well.

RT: Yeah and it’s really amazing to see them learning at a very young age so by the time they’re teenagers, they know the ropes so they’ll know it all by starting at a very young age.

BB: Anything else you want to say for the rest of the listeners for TEABBA today?

RT: Well you can tune in and hear us on TEABBA radio and check out the Malandarri Festival on Facebook cause we’ll be doing this every year now.

BB: And are you hoping for listeners to come down next year?

RT: Yeah sure, come down, we’re all welcome, it’s for black and white.

These responses are transcribed excerpts of interviews broadcast as part of TEABBA’s coverage of Malandarri Festival. We thank TEABBA for their generous support of and involvement with this year’s Festival. For more TEABBA coverage check their Malandarri Festival video.