Darwin Dreams

28 August 2013 | 8:44 am | Jess Ribeiro

"Then it was Geoffrey Gurrumul time. He won an award too. Who cares what for. His presence is phenomenal. Like some kind of spiritual initiate or King."

Two great events take place in Darwin during August. The Darwin Festival and the National Indigenous Music Awards. It's a bustling time for locals and tourists as they try to devour as much music and art as they can. Each year these events are drawing more and more people up north for the tropical celebrations. I was there as a performer with my band recently and my love for the NT returned as strong as ever. You see, I have a past with Darwin.

Seven years ago I accidently moved there. I got on a plane I thought was taking me to the desert. On arrival however, I stepped out into a landscape filled with coconut trees, lush, green, prehistoric vegetation and a glittering blue sea. I  wondered where the red sand and tin shed I had envisioned was and how I could have possibly gotten Alice Springs and Darwin mixed up. But I did. And there I was, taking a 50 cent bus trip into town that stopped outside the casino to pick up some local blackfellas. They got on. In one hand they held gold coins from the pokies and in the other they held freshly killed magpie geese. “Fresh goose, boss!” The bus driver grumbled. The men sat next to me with the dead birds. I tried to look relaxed. The hotch potch culture and people of Darwin got under my skin and that's how my love begun.

This time though, when I got off the plane there was a driver waiting to pick me and the (handsome) Midnight Juggernauts up. We got in the van and took off. I was instantly reminded of one of the reasons why I love Darwin. On the side of the road was crazy Trevor the local garbage collecting poet who tried to run for mayor. His motto was: “Vote one. Homeless bum.”

But I'm here to talk about the festival – the two-week, action-packed extravaganza, full of performances from local, national and international artists of every type.

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I was there for seven days and in that time I saw You Am I perform to about two thousand 40-year-olds moshing like it was the '90s again. I stood at the back eating ice cream, counting the bald spots. I watched a group of  long grassers emerge from the bushes, drunk and leery. They danced with the tourists. The tourists took photos with them. The security guards didn't flinch. You Am I played strong. Tim Rogers shouted out, “Jess Ribeiro is the original punk rock chick!”, and bass player Andy Kent looked good, like a Ken Barbie doll. The night (and my life) was complete.

On day two I did a songwriting workshop with Mama Kin. It was in a church. Mama Kin preached the good word to the people: “Write everyday.” And so we wrote. Next was the National Indigenous Music Awards, an outdoor concert and award ceremony that draws a heavily mixed audience of people. This year, three and a half thousand came. 

The awards celebrated its tenth year in existence and commemorated Yothu Yindi and Doctor Yunipingu with a special concert. It was an emotional celebration.

Winners on the night included Archie Roach and young 83-year-old Seaman Dan. Both inducted into the Hall of Fame. Thelma Plum, Shellie Morris and Jessica Mauboy all brought in the gold too. 

Then it was Geoffrey Gurrumul time. He won an award too. Who cares what for. His presence is phenomenal. Like some kind of spiritual initiate or King. He walked onto the stage escorted by his faithful musical comrade Michael Honan, who spoke on behalf on him. The audience applauded. Then silence. Gurumul let rip a, “Yo, family!” The crowd went wild. They screamed and cheered. Some people even cried and a flash flood of mobile phone photography took place.

It was a tremendous evening.

Besides those two days, though, I didn't see any other shows. There are so many great acts it's hard to keep up. The real beauty of the festival is the outdoor nightlife. Sitting on the grass. Under the trees dressed in lanterns. People gathering together. Eating and drinking before, during and after shows is the most magical part of the Darwin Festival.