Lighting up Numburindi Festival

— by Eve Pawlik

Artback NT Project Coordinator Eve Pawlik sets up for Numburindi Festival 2017, Numbulwar. Photo by Benjamin Bayliss

And we were off down the highway…

Our journey to Numbulwar for Numburindi Festival 2017 was a far cry from the previous year. Forced to fly in 2016 due to early wet season floods , this year saw us back on the dusty corrugated roads for the two-day drive from Darwin, allowing much time for contemplation and car singalongs!

One thing that hadn’t changed was my travel companion Josh Grant – Festival Technical Manager and packing expert – who embraced the road trip wholeheartedly, coining the phrase “who says you can’t fit a festival into a Hilux”!

Arriving in Numbulwar I had the unique sense of being both incredibly far away – located in far East Arnhem Land – Gulf of Carpentaria, Numbulwar is 783 kms from Darwin – and also feeling amazingly centred. I had been really looking forward to returning to this special seaside community!

Numbulwar and Artback NT are in the second year of collaboratively hosting the Numburindi Festival, a community driven 3-day event which celebrates traditional and contemporary arts and cultural practice from the region.

In the days leading up the festival I found myself carried along by the community rhythms – the characters of the town, the heat in the days and the cold of the nights, the gale force winds as we bumped in, youth band rehearsals and special hairstyling by the senior girls, the new clinic opening, school fete and funeral business. Numbulwar was a hum of activity across all spaces. Even before Josh and myself arrived, festival preparations were in full swing, Grant Nundhirribala, Artistic Director and Ella Geia, Festival Director had rallied together Elders and young people from the Murrungun, Nundhirribala, Ngalmi and Nunggarrgalu clans and local and external organisations. Seabreeze house, where Ella was working with a crew of imaginative women, was bursting with creations! There were collections of colourfully painted rubbish bins upcycled from old liquid storage tubs, hand painted flags, light sculptures made from old wire and fairy lights, ghost net stage decorations and marquee bunting from bamboo and ribbon!

The focus for this year was a celebration of all things youth – across art, culture, music and dance. My most vivid recollection of the week was the opening night of the festival: Youth Night. The inclusion of an evening just for young performers was exhilarating and the best way to start the festival program. The energy was palpable with the community flocking to the very edge of the sand, yelling out teaching advice – “lift your arm”, “kick up the sand” “like this, like this” – as their young ones performed their cultural dances or performed on stage as a part of the Numbulwar School Music Program. Of course, no festival is complete in community without a giant inflatable crocodile waterslide – Darwin Castles were a complete hit on Friday and Saturday. Andrew (Darwin Castles) and I had a great system going of high energy play with intervals of fresh fruit breaks – when I would be swarmed by the joyous and somewhat drenched enthusiasm of a hundred kids gobbling up fruit!

As the sun set on another vibrant display of Numbulwar’s rich diversity in language, song and dance, I realised that the magic of community festivals like Numburindi is the way new relationships and ways of making and working together are born. A perfect example of this was our 2017 catering arrangements with bush tucker (turtle) hunted by Grant Nundhirribala and food donated from the Numburindi Store, all cooked by John Terepo and his family and served by Lulu and a suite of other legends. These collaborative moments however big or small are so fundamental to carrying this event and keeping its voice true to its diverse community!

Written by Eve Pawlik, Artback NT Project Coordinator and Project Manager of Numburindi Festival