Laura Festival (2011)
In June 2011 I traveled to the the Cape York Peninsular for the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival in which features 500 performers from 20 communities from across the region share their traditional dance cycles with each other and the wider community.
I am told that this is very much an evolution from earlier incarnations of the festival – numbers having grown steadily over the years to the point now that a considerable army of cheerful volunteers service our arrival and shepherd us to a red patch of dirt to pitch our tent. All the contemporary festival trappings are present – the wrist bands, the food vendors, the market stalls and incredibly, hot showers. Key performers wear radio microphones and the didgeridoos and other assorted instrumentation are expertly amplified – no mean feat given the remoteness of the location.
However, one felt this was very much a necessity for a maturing festival, especially considering the thousands who were rolling through the gates and what appeared to be a very well heeled – and very white – crowd. Commercialisation on this scale brings responsibilities and no doubt the ire of the red tape brigade so it is perhaps inevitable that some of the more informal characteristics are sacrificed along the way. Having said that however, it certainly was organised with a soft touch – it had a warm, friendly feeling – and reflected the experiences I have had at other festivals in their infancy when you were not just attending an event as a remote viewer but were more a part of a collective experience.
And so, it was an honor to be in this place. To share in these performances over the three days and we felt very privileged to have been invited onto the land to witness these special celebrations of indigenous cultural exchange. There were distinct moments when one felt as though you were sharing very private exchanges between the performers, between family and between the respective mobs in the audience. Their seemed to be a lot of laughter, a lot of sincerity and a lot of knowing.
It is surprising that the Laura Festival is not more widely exposed – perhaps not in attendance numbers but certainly in mainstream cultural press and TV – as we would all be the better for it – indigenous and non-indigenous alike. It would certainly help to improve the wider community’s understanding of culture and improve our relationship with the land, to understand its personality, to decode the character of its wildlife and to more fully appreciate the people who have tended to it for so very long.