Barunga Festival success with record ticket sales 

[by Claudine Blondeau]


Image: supplied

Creating the first major COVID-safe First Nations gathering since the onset of the pandemic, this year’s Barunga Festival will go down as an important milestone in the event’s history, cementing its place in the national calendar.

With over 4,000 attendees including Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack, Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt, NT Attorney-General Selina Uibo, and Northern Land Council Chair Samuel Bush-Blanasi, the event proved a health-first approach can be upheld within a family-friendly environment in remote communities.

Anita Painter, Barunga Festival Committee representative, said: "It was important to have these people here because all Indigenous people need to be able to share their language and culture."

"The pandemic has had a huge impact on remote Indigenous communities, many of whom have been unable to travel throughout the last year," said Barunga Festival Director, Mark Grose. "Nothing is more important than keeping people safe and we are so glad that with the assistance of NT Health and NT Police a sense of togetherness could be reintroduced to start the mental healing of communities after lockdown. Barunga has once again shown the way."

For 35 years, Barunga Festival has been a special event for Australia, bringing Indigenous communities together to meet, compete and share, and inviting non-Indigenous Australians to experience a unique window into remote community life. Celebrated for the community rather than politics, its simplicity, potency, and focus on people has created a natural case study in reconciliation.

"The magic of Barunga is that it is a family event for Indigenous people and it is the community’s welcoming of non-Indigenous people that creates connection and understanding," said Mark. "Whether it’s urban and remote kids competing together in the hotly contested spear-throwing and didgeridoo making competitions, staunch Melbournians coming away with a new perspective on the athleticism of top-end AFL players or the esteemed musicians from the Darwin Symphony Orchestra learning from remote Indigenous musical talent, like Ripple Effect Band, Barunga changes attitudes and minds while creating connections in a way that no other event in Australia can."


The Darwin Symphony Orchestra made the four-hour drive down the Stuart Highway to join acts like Manuel Dhurrkay (Saltwater Band), Don Nunggarrgalu (Mambali) and The Djari Project live on stage, as well as unite with Maningrida’s Ripple Effect Band for a special performance - the first time a Western orchestra has collaborated on-country with an all-female First Nations act. A highlight of the event was remote WA singer Olive Knight (Kankawa), who has previously toured the world with Hugh Jackman, stunning the crowds with her desert blues and some strong, thought-provoking statements on the First Nations’ place in music. The event also hosted one of the first public performances of The Lonely Boys since the tragic passing of their singer last December.

After the 2020 competition did not go ahead, it was high stakes for the Barunga sports program with winners including Santa Theresa in men’s football, Wadeye Magic in softball, and Gapiwiak in women’s basketball.

The guitar shredding competition was also a highlight with competitors from right across remote NT trying their luck with ‘Wipeout’, resulting in Isaiah Wurramurra taking home the $500 cash prize. The Barunga Disco was a big hit with kids, once again proving to be the social celebration of the year for under 18s and cementing the event’s reputation as a safe, family-friendly drug, smoke, and alcohol-free event.

"We thank the NT police and health department, but most importantly the Barunga elders and wider community who worked with us across the weekend to ensure that Barunga Festival lived up to its history and reputation as a healthy and happy place," said Mark Grose.

The Barunga community looks forward to inviting Australia to experience community life once again at Barunga Festival 2022. With the event sure to sell out again, tickets will go on sale soon. Please visit and sign up for the mailing list or follow us on Facebook via


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