Gurrung – from August to October is the hot dry season in Kakadu. Happily for us it is also the season of the Stone Country Festival in Gunbalyana (formerly known as Oenpelli).
Once a year, the locals open their home to the not-so-locals who can drive across Cahill’s Crossing without a permit, into Arnhem Land for the occasion. It was a unique opportunity for our family to experience the indigenous culture of the Gunbalanya Community in the spectacular setting of the escarpment and floodplains of Western Arnhem Land.
We parked next to the Gunbalanya oval. It was 37 degrees and 2pm. We navigated our way through town to the art centre “Injalak.” Local artists paint and exhibit their work there. There were canvases, designs on paper, didgeredoos, weaving and the only air conditioning unit in town. Afterwards Eleanor and I headed for the trees outside where, if you sat down near the women, they would teach you to weave pandanus. We both made a little progress on some baskets begun by others. It was clearly a community weaving project, as it takes a long time to do. I am happy to report that it involved mainly blanket stitch!.
We made our way back through the heat haze to the oval, and watched the end of the AFL final that was being played there. St John’s College Darwin defeated the others – not sure who was playing in the Blue and White. Slowly the players and their supporters made their way back to the Gunbalanya Primary School for the presentation and I was very keen to have a little peek into a very different school environment. It was well resourced, with a huge COLA and plenty of heat defeating strategies, though it was hard to see into the rooms as a result.
Later, on the specially prepared sandy stage, a dancing festival was held. We sat under camouflage netting and Axo1000 and BloggiE saw their first Aboriginal dancing. And what a setting! The escarpment and floodplains was the backdrop for the dancers and the band played under thatched huts. It was hard to go past it.
For many there was camping on the oval, where indigenous bands were playing till midnight. But we drove home along the floodplains and stopped for one last look.