A Spotlight on Queensland's Yarrabah Music & Cultural Festival by Elverina Johnson
Local cultural festivals have been a major part of Yarrabah’s history and community life for many years. Music, cultural activities and local cultural dancing have been a main feature with the locals as well as with the visitors from as far as the Torres Strait Islands, who have come to participate.
The ‘Yarrabah Festival’ has been a part of the community from as early as 1901 and since then, several festivals such as ‘Yarrabah Week’ (established in July 1936) have brought attention to a variety of causes. These historical events have been far buried in the history pages of Yarrabah’s life of festivities where the sharing and showcasing of local talent and culture has paved the way for keeping these festival traditions alive.
I have been involved in uncovering many of the stories and history of the Yarrabah Brass Bands which date back to as early as 1901. This iteration of the Yarrabah Brass Band was made up of only one local trumpet player, until more locals were encouraged to learn brass instruments and join the band. This newly formed Yarrabah Brass Band performed in Yarrabah and surrounding areas in and around Cairns, raising much needed support for the community and its people.
My research on the history of the Yarrabah Brass Bands began in 2002. I was approached by the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) to work on a project ‘Blow Im’, a story about the Yarrabah Brass Band. The project began as an exhibition at QPAC, and later as a two-character play, which toured schools across Queensland, starring Steven Oliver and Nadine McDonald.
Fast forward to 2013, when the first Yarrabah Band Festival was established by Queensland Music Festival’s Artistic Director, James Morrison. James worked with local musician Greg Fourmile, the grandson of Henry Fourmile, a trumpet player in the second wave of the Yarrabah Brass Band, to breathe new life into the band.
The Yarrabah Music and Cultural Festival is the most recent instalment, an annual festival which brings together community, music and cultural activities, encouraging visitors from all over Queensland to celebrate and enjoy this event.
And now who would’ve thought that after being involved as the local Yarrabah Band Festival Coordinator for the past five years, that this year in 2019, I would be appointed as Queensland Music Festival’s first Indigenous Producer for the Yarrabah Music and Cultural Festival?
I now have the huge task of helping deliver a new festival concept that includes cultural components that give audiences the opportunity to experience and embrace the festival in a more culturally integrated way.
This year the Yarrabah Music and Cultural Festival invites all people from all backgrounds to come and experience Yarrabah with an open mindedness, a willingness to participate and to engage and learn from people from one of the oldest living cultures in the world. This year we will host the unique music and sounds of Young Australian of the Year, Indigenous Rapper, Baker Boy and the soulful sounds of Thandi Phoenix as well as local artists in song, dance and cultural activities such as weaving, spear making and other local craft works by local artists. We look forward to seeing you there.
In recent years the festival has featured Paul Kelly, Vika & Linda Bull, Kira Puru, Mau Power, Troy Cassar-Daley, Archie Roach, Montaigne, Sara Storer, Shellie Morris, James Morrison, and the host of Triple J’s House Party, KLP.
In 2019, the day opens with local bands and ends with a massed finale on stage with headline artists, local artists and bands.
Yarrabah Music & Cultural Festival is an annual festival held in partnership with the Yarrabah Aboriginal Shire Council.
Further details can be found at www.yarrabahfest.com.au
For more 20th Anniversary stories click here.