It’s hard to convey the sheer size of Yirramboi Festival, Australia’s premier First Nations festival, which runs from May 2 to 12. Yirramboi (which means “tomorrow” in the shared local languages of the Boonwurrung and Woiwurrung peoples), features more than 200 First Nations creatives appearing in more than 100 events across 25 venues around the city, encompassing music, dance, theatre, film, exhibitions, markets, fashion parades, talks and workshops.
Yirramboi Festival’s creative director is Caroline Martin, a Boonwurrung woman. She explains that the festival is an opportunity for people to engage with a cultural expression that has survived for more than 2000 generations. “This is really a festival about us for everyone,” she says. “We understand that it’s our culture but it’s everyone’s history. We want everyone to engage in it and celebrate with us.”
Most events are free and many are family friendly, “so there’s no reason why anyone can’t participate,” says Martin, who shared her top picks for the festival with Broadsheet.
Kutcha’s Carpool Koorioke
Mutti Mutti songman Kutcha Edwards appears in four short films directed by acclaimed Torres Strait Islander producer, director and writer John Harvey. Shot in and around Fitzroy’s “Dirty Mile” – an area surrounding Gertrude Street with a rich Indigenous history – the film features some of Australia’s most talented First Nations musical artists, including Elaine Crombie, Bunna Lawrie, Archie Roach, Alice Skye, Dan Sultan, Bart Willoughby and Emily Wurramara, who all join Edwards in his car in conversation and song. A special guest is Uncle Jack Charles, “a very well-loved person around the Fitzroy area,” says Martin.
Saturday May 11 from 5.30pm to 7.30pm | Meat Market (3 Blackwood Street, North Melbourne), FREE
One of the highlights of the Yirramboi program is a “citywide Blak-out” scheduled for the first Saturday of the festival. Barring Yanabul – which translates as “we all walk the path” in shared local language – features more than 40 events in venues across the city. “It takes over Melbourne’s iconic public spaces and laneways,” says Martin.
Deborah Cheetham, a music industry veteran who is a Yorta Yorta soprano and composer, will lead the Dhungala Children’s Choir on the steps of the State Library for performances at 10am and 1pm. In Bourke Street Mall at 11am, ‘Esitā Morgan will entertain crowds with her lively renditions of soul classics.
Taungurung woman Kate ten Buuren’s dis rupt takes over Hamer Hall from 4pm to 8pm. A team of 10 emerging First Nations artists will debut work across story, song, dance and performance, inspired by the land where the hall is located and the nearby Birrarung (Yarra River). “It’s a chance for young people to take over a space they wouldn’t necessarily get the opportunity to perform in,” says Martin.
From 8pm at Hamer Hall, Yothu Yindi and the Treaty Project (and special guests) will perform old and new material in a show that celebrates cross-generational collaboration. And for the night owls, sound artist Naretha Williams will present Blak Mass – an experimental new work incorporating the Melbourne Town Hall’s grand organ and live electronics – in an 11pm show.
Saturday May 4 from 8am to 12am | Citywide
Blak Market x Sunday Jam Session
Yirramboi Weelam, the festival hub at North Melbourne’s Meat Market (weelam means “home”), will host a special makers’ market on Sunday May 5, featuring more than 20 stalls run by First Nations creators, including fashion designers, jewellery makers, craftspeople and purveyors of bush foods. Local artisans will host weaving workshops and talented First Nation singer-songwriters will provide chill Sunday tunes. “It’s a full day of activity,” says Martin.
Sunday May 5 from 10am to 4pm | Meat Market (3 Blackwood Street, North Melbourne), FREE
Bad Apples Music House Party
The multi-talented Briggs – rapper, writer, actor and record label owner – is one of the country’s most successful Indigenous entertainers. A founding member of hip-hop duo A.B. Original, Briggs founded record label Bad Apples in 2015, which has signed numerous Indigenous hip-hop artists.
Yirramboi will host a showcase of Bad Apples’s most promising talent at festival hub in a free event that’s guaranteed to get rowdy. It’s immeasurably valuable for emerging artists to have the mentorship of someone as successful as Briggs, says Martin: “These young people wouldn’t get a platform otherwise.”
Friday May 3 from 8pm to 11pm | Meat Market (3 Blackwood Street, North Melbourne), FREE
Miss First Nation Grand Final 2019 & Closing Night Party
The jewel in the crown of Yirramboi’s closing night festivities is the iconic Miss First Nation Grand Final – and this year’s contest marks the famous pageant’s Melbourne debut. We’re sure to see fierce competition among the country’s most dazzling Indigenous drag entertainers in the heats (held May 8 through 10), leading up to the final showdown at the Meat Market on May 11. Rose Mary, winner of the inaugural Miss First Nation Taiwan competition, will appear as a special guest judge as part of an international collaboration with the Taiwanese First Nations festival, Pulima.
Saturday May 11 from 8pm to 1am | Meat Market, (3 Blackwood Street, North Melbourne), FREE
Yirramboi Festival runs from May 2 to May 12. More details here.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with City of Melbourne.