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Byron Shire
February 23, 2024

A Festival of Engagement

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Mandy Nolan

Boomerang Festival have just made their first artist announcement with headlines Gurrumul, Shellie Morris, The Medics, Thelma Plum, Ernie Dingo and Sean Choolburra being some of the artists who will celebrate this inaugural indigenous music and arts festival ‘for all Australians’. Artistic Director Rhoda Roberts is at the helm, a dynamo who spreads her time between Boomerang, the Sydney Opera House, QPAC and three kids. Based in Woombah, in northern NSW, Roberts is very experienced in getting ambitious projects off the ground. Founder of the Dreaming Festival at Woodford, Roberts believes that Boomerang continues the work of bringing often unseen indigenous artists into the mainstream.

wp-RR-Image-2‘Boomerang was born out of the fact that we realised there was this huge audience out there that want this experience but there is a gap in the market.’

Peter Noble (Bluesfest Director and Boomerang patron and partner) has offered 100% commitment to the event. We have no funding, so it’s commercial and it has to be sustainable.

‘It’s like switching the PC non-profit mentality off and saying let’s strive for the best, let’s look for the opportunities to showcase artists and at the same time it increases everything from cottage industries to cultural tourism.’

Roberts believes that festivals play a vital role in continuing the voice of indigenous Australia.

‘If we were to rely on mainstream festivals there is very little opportunity for Aboriginal artists. We have a continuous culture, when I talk about an artist I refer to them as a knowledge keeper.

‘Gurrumul is keeping language alive and making it relevant for other Australians to embrace and almost own, the stories Archie Roach weaves in his new show are from an oral perspective, he is telling stories as he would back in the day and it’s just as relevant, having the opportunity to see theatre. Back in the day we didn’t hang art on our humpies, or do theatre. We are continuing art and practice, we have adapted our ancient ways to now.’

When it comes to culture inclusion, Rhoda believes New Zealand has for a long time led the way. ‘It’s great to look over there and get a perspective on what happened. They embrace language there. People speak Maori in schools, governement organisations, roadsigns. Our old people are inclusive. They want the knowledge to be passed on. Last night I saw footage of a CSG protest in Canberra and I saw the banner, ‘Our Land’. If you didn’t know it was CSG you would have thought it was an indigenous action, but there wasn’t a black face in the protest. It is about land. Now they get where we were coming from!’

While attendees can enjoy the music of Gurrumul, or Archie Roach, or dance to the Medics and Thelma Plum, Rhoda believes the key to Boomerang is engagement across the arts.

Spoken word will play a big part of this three-day event with speakers like Professor of Law and Harvard Graduate Larrissa Behrendt presenting a panel discussion called ‘The F Word’ where she will be looking at feminism as a contemporary conversation on how feminist paradigms fit with first nations.

Rhoda is passionate about Boomerang and believes that if Peter Noble hadn’t come on board, it wouldn’t have happened.

‘We did submission after submission. It’s debilitating when you don’t get anywhere, and having someone like Peter Noble investing his life in it really means something. That type of commitment is very limited in Australia. We didn’t fit the funding model. Which was amazing because this is on the ground reconciliation – as much as I hate that word! But this is about being accessible and backing the dialogue. Where else can you get this sort of experience?

Interestingly Roberts cited stats from interstate and international visitors. ‘90% are seeking an aboriginal experience and only 8% get it’.

Well, come to Boomerang and you’ll get it. ‘You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll learn, you’ll dance, you’ll have a great time!’ laughs Rhoda.

Boomerang Festival 4-6 October at the Blues Fest site.

Tickets at earlybird rates with 3-day adult for just $215.



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