Yarrabah Music & Cultural Festival

A celebration of Indigenous music and community, nestled between the ocean and the mountains in Far North Queensland.

2013 - 2021

Yarrabah Music & Cultural Festival

The Opportunity

Deliver a unique cultural tourism and economic development opportunity for this isolated Indigenous community in Far North Queensland. Using music as the instrument of reconciliation, work with the Yarrabah Aboriginal Shire Council to nurture local artists and give them the opportunity to perform alongside nationally and internationally-acclaimed musicians; build community skills and capacity to develop the festival into the future, contributing to the economic and cultural autonomy of Yarrabah; boost Yarrabah’s increasing profile as a hub of Indigenous tourism excellence; and continue to support an event that fosters significant community pride and wellbeing.

The Outcome

In partnership with QMF, Yarrabah Aboriginal Shire Council works to deliver this free, family-friendly event, just 45 minutes from Cairns. YMCF is well on the way to becoming a landmark institution of Indigenous cultural tourism in Queensland. The 2019 Festival, headlined by Indigenous music icons Yothu Yindi, attracted over 5000 visitors to the spectacular surrounds of this vibrant community, and was the 2019 Winner of the Queensland Government’s Reconciliation Award. Past festivals have featured Australian music luminaries like Archie Roach and Paul Kelly.


Years of Festivals


Cultural Workshops Facilitated (2019)


Artists and Artsworkers Employed (2019)


Audience Members in Attendance (2019)

#Project Overview

In 2019, QMF delivered the Festival in partnership with the Yarrabah Aboriginal Shire Council, local Elder and QMF Producer Elverina Johnson, and the broader Yarrabah community. At the community’s request, the event formerly known as Yarrabah Brass Band Festival was renamed Yarrabah Music & Cultural Festival, and cultural elements reflective of traditional knowledge were added to the music program. Workshops and participatory cultural activities were curated in consultation with the community. The cultural program engaged over 62 local artists and arts workers, contributing to a more culturally immersive, and locally sustainable, festival experience.

October 2023 will see the first ever Yarrabah Music and Cultural Festival to be co-delivered with Yarrabah Aboriginal Shire Council, as we undertake a historic transition of this key cultural asset to the Yarrabah community through Yarrabah Aboriginal Shire Council. This transition is being mapped out as part of a Tourism and Events Queensland (TEQ) strategic plan, which enumerates expectations and accountabilities for QMF, Council, and community during this process. This historic moment marks a watershed in Indigenous cultural self-determination, and reflects QMF’s commitment to placing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and stories at the forefront of the North Queensland tourism recovery.

The Yarrabah Music & Cultural Festival invites all people from all backgrounds to come and experience Yarrabah with open-mindedness, a willingness to participate, and to engage and learn from people from one of the oldest living cultures in the world.

Elverina Johnson, 2019 Yarrabah Festival Producer

Danced my feet off. It was uplifting to see the Yarrabah Brass Band perform with Paul Kelly and co. Pure magic... a sense of hope for the future. I can't wait for the next one!!!

Audience Member

I honestly feel so fortunate and humbled to be here in the biggest Indigenous community in Australia.

Thandi Phoenix, 2019 Performer

#Positive Impact

One of QMF’s most significant and long-lasting initiatives, Yarrabah has grown from humble beginnings to become a signature event in Queensland’s cultural tourism calendar and a significant source of employment, economic activity, and community wellbeing for Yarrabah.

The 2021 Festival will be the first to be led by Council, marking a historic transition of ownership and a key milestone in the journey to First Nations self-determination. This process, supported by a dedicated three-year training program and ongoing support from QMF, will strengthen local leadership of key aspects of the event for long-term sustainability. This ensures the Festival will continue to build on the economic benefits—including job creation, skills training, and direct visitor spend—that the event generates for this isolated and historically disenfranchised community.

Local artistic talent continues to be nurtured through the community engagement aspects of the program, including musical workshops delivered by major artists in community in the lead up to the event. Through a partnership with Queensland Performing Arts Centre's First Nations program, professional artists work with Yarrabah’s young people to build creative and professional skills, as well as social and emotional capacity—and the confidence to perform onstage in front of thousands of audience members.

Yarrabah Music and Cultural Festival continues to generate a strong national media profile that focuses on the strengths of the community, rather than just the challenges.

Read more about the Yarrabah Brass Band in the New York Times