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News

Barunga- an experience of a lifetime

Posted on 16 Jul 2013

Managing Director and fifth generation family member David Albert was invited to Barunga Festival last month. It was an experience of a lifetime for him, so we asked him to share it with us... 

Barunga.....it's all about the music...and the community, and the culture, and the sport, and the art, and health. And it was an absolute experience of a lifetime.

An invitation for an event that is being held two weeks after the birth of your fourth child is one that in normal circumstances would receive a polite thanks....but not this year. The fact that the invitation came from Stacia Goninon who works with the Seed Fund, an organisation that aims to assist Australian artists from any background to establish themselves as self sustaining professionals and the John Butler Trio, both of which I am a major fan of, was cause to rethink.

That it was a request to join the Inbound Program and to attend a Festival in the remote town of Barunga, a small aboriginal community located approximately 80 kilometres southeast of Katherine, in the Northern Territory suddenly made it something that needed serious consideration.
And the fact that the festival was being presented by Skinnyfish Music who have played such an important role in supporting indigenous music in the Northern Territory, across Australia and internationally made it a must do.

To be honest my knowledge of the Inbound Program, the Barunga Festival, Indigenous music and community performance was pretty limited. I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I had never been to the NT and for some reason Alberts, a company that has been involved in the Australian music scene for 125 + years has had a relatively limited involvement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island (ATSI) music.

In short the Inbound Program is a partnership between APRA | AMCOS, The Australia Council & the Federal Office of the Arts, the Seed Fund and Skinnyfish Music. It is an inspired concept dreamt up by Sally Howland from APRA and Danielle Caruana (think Mama Kin and the Seed Fund) that takes music industry representatives and allows them to experience firsthand music and creativity in the Top End. There is no expectation of outcomes other than the opportunity for those who attend to get a real sense of what is happening in this region, the level of musicianship and to discover community performance.

The Barunga Festival is Australia's biggest remote community Festival. The Festival is well known as the place where in 1988 the then Prime Minister Bob Hawke who was attending was presented with two paintings with text calling for indigenous rights. This became known as the Barunga Statement. It was after the failure of the Australian Government to honour the Prime Minister’s promise to Indigenous Australians that the song “Treaty” was composed by Yothu Yindi in collaboration with Paul Kelly and Midnight Oil.

The Festival is built around the core areas of music, sport and culture but it is so much more than this, a fact which I would see and experience over the four days that I was there. The highlights were many:

  • The five hour drive from Darwin to Barunga that showcased the beauty and ruggedness of the Northern Territory;
  • Experiencing the enduring sense of pride and spirit in the 300 strong Barunga community and their ability to showcase through music, sport, community, heritage and health a story of the ATSI people that we don’t hear enough about;
  • A demonstration of the superb natural skills of the local athletes through the AFL and softball competition;
  • Gaining a better understanding of the culture and heritage that is being preserved and passed on whilst camping out and getting to know a special group of musical industry representatives including Michael Hutchings, Sally Howland, Missy Higgins, Richard Moffat and Phil Eaton;
  • The brilliance of the stars at night, a visit to the spring-fed thermal pools just out of Mataranka and swimming every morning in the crystal waters of the local billabong;
  • The sense of family, the happiness, the smiles and the laughter amongst the local children and the ease at which both the locals and tourists intermingled and the sense of absolute safety walking back to your campervan at 1.30 in the morning; and
  • The music. Eclectic. Passionate. Raw. Powerful. Inspiring.

There were so many musical highlights across the three days. From the main Festival stage and the energy and the fervour of the community bands like B2M, T-Lynx, the Young Guns, Tjupi Band, the Sunrize Band and a raft of others that brought the audience to their feet. A special performance by John Butler, an individual who both musically and through his Seed Fund has been a long standing supporter of Australian music. And of course Gurrumul whose presence and voice dazzled the crowd of over 3,000 with his amazing performance.

Then there was the APRA tent which was nestled next to the billabong with a fire pit and an offer to 'seduce you with its mellow relaxed atmosphere'. It did this in spades with the mesmerising Thelma Plum, Michael Hohnen and his double bass, Emma Louise, the Lonely Boys and multiple performances by the charismatic Tom E Lewis.

Six weeks later I am back to the craziness of life in Sydney and though the trip now seems like a distant memory and a wonderful dream, its impact will stay with me forever. I now have a much better awareness and a huge amount of respect for the community bands and the challenges they face. From the vast distances that need to be travelled, the lack of performance space and equipment and the difficulties at times in getting all members in the same place at the same time. That there is a huge amount of talent both raw and honed is unquestionable and there has to be more that can be done to give those musicians who want to seek out commercial success a chance to do so. I would like to think that Alberts can play a role in achieving this.

I now have such a positive story to tell about the indigenous community at Barunga and their pride in community, culture, sport and music. It is an example that more people should be aware of. I would like to thank all those people who not only worked on making the Festival a success but have made the Inbound concept a reality. You can be sure that I am now one of its strongest advocates. And finally to Sally, Rich, Missy, Phil and Michael....it was an absolute pleasure sharing the experience with each and every one of you.  

David Albert, MD
Alberts

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