First look at 2019 Yirramboi Festival

Yirramboi Caroline Martin - photo by Steven RhallMelbourne’s premier First Peoples multi-genre arts and cultural festival, Yirramboi Festival, will embrace the city this May with a rich array of music, dance, theatre, exhibitions, markets, fashion parades and symposiums.

In her first year as Creative Director of the festival, Boon Wurrung Woman, Caroline Martin, has programmed 100 plus free and ticketed events spotlighting over 200 First Nations creatives. The full program will be revealed on 21 March. Yirramboi means ‘tomorrow’ in the shared local languages of the Boon Wurrung and Woi Wurrung peoples, and the program is all about what’s next.

Yirramboi celebrates over two thousand generations of continuous cultural practice and knowledge – this festival is a celebration of us, for everyone,” said Caroline Martin. “The program invites positive, two-way conversation and aims to inspire a shared vision for tomorrow.”

“While the cultures belong to First Peoples, it is our shared history and Yirramboi is an absolutely magnificent opportunity for all to engage with our diverse cultures, learn and celebrate together.”

In a programming highlight, emerging Taungurung curator Kate ten Buurentakes over Arts Centre Melbourne’s Hamer Hall with dis rupt – a four-hour long blaktivation of the space by over ten young local First Nations practitioners. In an afternoon of live music, performance and visual arts this new work, which has been made specifically for the venue, responds to the stories of the land on which the Hall rests, the Birrarung and its waterways.

Yirramboi has commissioned four emerging and mid-career First Nations practitioners based in Victoria to develop and showcase their work known as the KIN commission initiative, through the Knowledge Industry Network.

Two of these world premiere performances include Joel Bray’s Daddy – presented with Arts House a saccharine and at times sinister examination of the colonial condition, his relationship with his father and queer adulthood; and Jack Sheppard’s The Honouring presented at La Mama, a new physical theatre piece with puppetry developed around themes of suicide and its knock-on effect on First Nations communities. The other two commissions will be announced with the full program on 21 March.

2019 has been declared the International Year of Indigenous Languages and in honour of this significant declaration the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages (VACL) and Yirramboi Festival present a number of forums and workshops titled: WURRUNG – Our Language, Our Mother Tongue.

The Forums will be facilitated by qualified Victorian linguists, Lee Healy and Harley Dunolly-Lee. The workshops are an exploration of how the revival of First Nations languages are critical to cultural strengthening, health and wellbeing and educational opportunities and reconciliation.

Yirramboi has teamed up with the Melbourne Recital Centre to present the outstanding works of two First Nations musicians. Modern transgender Hawaiian First Nations musician, Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’oleis – a global touring and recording artist whose genre-crossing work strives to “prompt the Native into action and engage our psyche.” Grounded in the traditions of hula and ha’a – an energetic style of martial dance and ancient hula, the singer composes mele oli (chant verses) and choreographs performances for Halau O Kekuhi.

After five years at the helm of the band Tigerlilly, Lydia Fairhall has taken her much loved sound and stories and, with the Black She Oaks, has taken them to higher realms and landed them firmly back in the heart centred vibe she is well known for.

In another program highlight, choreographer Vicki Van Hout in partnership with Arts House with plenty serious TALK TALK – her sharp and witty dance theatre work that weaves in threads of stand-up, visual art practice, multimedia work and performance.

In a special one night only performance at Arts Centre Melbourne, the founding members of Yothu Yindi – Witiyana Marika, Stu Kellaway and Kevin Malngay Yunupingu are joined on stage by the next generation of First Nations stars in an electronica-driven formation combining music, song and dance for a powerful protest call for Treaty.

Chair of the City of Melbourne’s Arts, Culture and Heritage portfolio, Councillor Rohan Leppert, said the pioneering festival is a landmark cultural event for the city. “An incredible array of talent from across Victoria and around the world will be on full display at Yirramboi in 2019,” said Cr Leppert.

“Under the directorship of the amazing Caroline Martin a huge showcase of talent has been brought together to create an illuminating festival which is bound to inspire and empower the next generation of First Nations creatives. What we’re announcing today is only a glimpse of what Yirramboi will showcase across the city in May.”

The 2019 Yirramboi Festival runs 2 – 12 May. Full program announced on 21 March. For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Caroline Martin – photo by Steven Rhall