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Nguku Festival 2023: A Celebration of Water

Published On: October 5th, 2023Categories: Festival, Music, Youth

The second annual Nguku festival took place in Elliot in the last week of September. This gathering was initiated in 2022 as a collaborative project between Arid Lands Environment Care and Barkly Regional Arts, with music curated by Winanjjikari Music Centre. The two day festival took place within the central park under sweltering heat, with a welcomed cool breeze each afternoon.

A gradual influx of grinning children cascaded onto the basketball court and by the evening a cacophony of laughter, squeaks, backboards and nets could be heard ringing across the park. All the while, a sun-beaten Winanjjikari music team assembled a large screen and projector for a presentation of Wollongong University’s multimedia exhibition, Where Lakes Once Had Water, which interrelated the rhythms of climate and ontology, curated by Sonia Leber and David Chesworth within the region to an interpretive soundscape. Afterwards, there was a showing of Sweet As, a full-length movie featuring a resident of Elliot, Pedrea Jackson, and highlighting a soundtrack contribution by another Elliot resident, Eleanor Dixon. Enthusiastic boasts of “He’s my uncle!” or ‘That’s my cousin!’ could be heard when Jackson made his appearance on the screen.

Winanjjikari Music Centre crew setting up the stage

The following evening, soundchecks began in the morning, resonating across the hot grass. Meanwhile, The Barkly Arts Team prepared tie-dye sessions for the children. The Arid Lands Environment Care group gathered, seated in the shade of a large tree, to initiate a discussion session with activists and community members about the next steps in protecting their water. As the sun began to set, the children finished screen printing Nguku festival logos onto their newly acquired shirts, and a large game of soccer kicked off as the music began.

Screen printed shirts featuring the festival logo

The first act was the wonderful Mudbarra man, Ray Dixon, featuring vocals from his granddaughter, Tirzah Tipungwuti, and presenting new material soon to be released on his upcoming EP, Marndilyahi Nguku (Sorry For Water). These gentle reflections on land and knowledge set the stage for Winanjjikari’s own band, The Barkly Drifters, who inserted rhythm and wailing guitars to get the crowd moving. Eleanor Dixon followed with a hypnotic neo-soul backing accompanied by a trio of female voices, combining spoken word and entrancing harmonies in language. The audience sat in awe throughout the entire set and erupted into applause at her final notes. Harold Dalywaters provided driving country rhythms with a large band and featured some young family members. The final act of the night was the renowned Coloured Stone, who burst into their hit Black Boy as the opener to ensure that the children had their chance to dance to it before bedtime. As soon as the show was complete, a satisfied Barkly Arts team began their rigorous pack up and all participants of Nguku festival made way to their swags and tents in preparation for their arduous drives that they faced in the morning.

Eleanor Dixon serenading the crowd with some neo-soul numbers

Nguku served as a meeting point for a diverse collection of families and communities to come together, share a meal, and engage in sports and the arts, all under our shared relationship with the land and the life that water sustains. The community of Elliot were a generous and warm host to this purpose. We all left with our bellies and hearts full in the face of increasing climate adversity.

Coloured Stone with the Barkly Arts and Nguku Festival team

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