In the shared local languages of the Boonwurrung and Woiwurrung peoples, Yirramboi means “tomorrow”. It’s also the name of the Melbourne festival celebrating the depth and breadth of First Nations culture – one with more than 60,000 years of history – which returns to the city from May 6 to 16 with its largest-ever program.

With diversity and creativity at its core, more than 150 free and low-cost events make up the recently announced program. It features some of the country’s boldest First Nations artists, who have emerged from a year of postponements full of vitality.

A plethora of art forms make up the roster of events, including music, dance, theatre, film and art. And there’ll also be exhibitions, markets, fashion parades, family-friendly events, talks and symposiums.

On the first Saturday of the festival, more than 40 pop-ups will land across the CBD as part of Barring Yanabul, which translates to “we all walk the path” in shared local language. It’s what the festival’s creative director Caroline Martin, a Boonwurrung and Wemba Wemba woman, calls a “city-wide Blak Out”.

Meanwhile, Wakka Wakka creative Harley Mann will star alongside three other performers from Na Djinang Circus in Arterial, a rousing acrobatic show. It will explore the inextricable links between Indigenous people, country and culture. “I first met Harley when he was a part of Circus Oz’s Blakflip program,” Martin says. “I’ve always wanted circus to be a part of Yirramboi, [and] what better way to showcase his new ensemble to the world.”

Another highlight will be Coconut Woman by Maryanne Sam, a Meriam Mer woman. The “fish out of water” story is part comedy, part drama and part musical, delving into what it means to belong for First Nations peoples. It begins in Melbourne before an unexpected opportunity propels the main character, Nancy Bruce, to the Torres Strait Islands, the ancestral home of her late mother. With an entirely Torres Strait Islander cast and crew, Martin says, “We are incredibly proud … to celebrate [Sam’s] life as a Meriam Mer woman, bringing another perspective into the landscape of Australia, which is the Torres Strait Islands”.

Political cabaret A Fight for Survival is centred around the nearly three-year battle to save Victoria’s treasured Northland Secondary College from a 1992 authorisation to shut it down. Two students took a powerful stance, alleging to the Equal Opportunity Board that the state’s decision to close it was an act of systemic racial discrimination.

Also part of the program this year: Miss First Nations, billed as Australia’s only national competition for First Nations drag entertainers; The Fae, a performance honing in on common ground between the “origins of fairies, queer Blak people and early colonial writings on Blak people”; and Seasons in Blak Box, a glowing box in the Royal Botanic Gardens with an immersive sound work that brings the seasons to life. Plus, a three-night takeover of The Capitol with First Nations-helmed films, the Deadly Funny Showcase featuring Blak comedians, and rapper Ziggy Ramo presents Black Thoughts at the Melbourne Recital Centre stage.

The program announcement brings with it a message about the importance of community, of coming together and staying resilient – something that we all need to be reminded of now more than ever. “I’m incredibly proud that I have the opportunity to program people to shine,” Martin says. “When our people shine, we all shine.”

Yirramboi runs from May 6 to 16. Find the full program and ticketing information online.

yirramboi.net.au

Alana Kushnir is the founder of Guest Work Agency, a curatorial practice and legal and advisory firm for artists, collectors, commercial galleries and arts organisations.