MY TEAM! - The Beswick Bears Football Club (unfortunately they didn't make the finals)

I’ve been going to the annual Barunga Festival for the last twenty years or so but have missed the past few years because I’ve been living down south or around Alice Springs. So this year I thought it was about time to wander down the Stuart Highway again and have another look.

From the Festival’s website comes this useful background information for those unfamiliar with this long-running festival that was first held in 1985. Of particular importance is the preparation of and delivery to then Prime Minister Bob Hawke of what has become known as the Barunga Statement.

The Barunga Festival has been seen as an important landmark in Aboriginal affairs in the Northern Territory, and has regularly hosted and welcomed local and national politicians. In 1988, the then Prime Minister Bob Hawke attended the Barunga Festival, and was presented with a statement on Aboriginal Self-Determination that became known as the Barunga Statement.

In 1988 a group of men gathered together to address issues of Aboriginal culture and politics. Among the leaders present were Galarrwuy Yunupingu, (then chairman of the Northern Land Council), Bangardi Lee, Wenton Rubuntja (who passed away in 2005), Prime Minister Bob Hawke, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Gerry Hand.

On June 12th 1988, the same year that Australia was celebrating 200 years of colonisation, the Barunga Statement was presented to Prime Minister Hawke at the Festival.

The Barunga Statement calls for Aboriginal self-management, a national system of land rights, compensation for loss of lands, respect for Aboriginal identity, an end to discrimination and the granting of full civil, economic, social and cultural rights for Indigenous Australians. The Barunga Statement itself was the product of several years of negotiations between Galarrwuy and other Aboriginal leaders across Australia.

The Barunga Statement

The Barunga Statement painting combined several clan designs from Yolngu country in northeastern Arnhem Land on the left with a large design featuring traditional Central Desert iconography on the right.

As such it visually affirmed the unified demands of the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory and the Land Councils that represented the interests of those who had already attained the first measure of self-management promised by the Land Rights Act (NT) 1976.

There is a sad irony to that fact once again, as happened with the Yirrkala Bark Petition, the concepts of the white man’s law were used to invalidate the demands that black man’s law be honoured in Australia.

It is sadder still in that one of the points in the Statement calls for a ‘justice system which recognises our customary law’.

In 1991, in his last act as Prime Minister, Mr Hawke shed a tear as he hung the Barunga Statement in Parliament House, saying he wished he could have done more for Indigenous Australians (he never delivered on the promised treaty).

You can see more of the Barunga Statement here. A lot has happened since 1988 – at Barunga and elsewhere in the Katherine region – and not always for the better.

But the Barunga Festival is still running and this year the enthusiasm and vigour of previous festivals was just as strong as ever. Long may it continue.

I was a bit crook with the flu over the weekend so didn’t get to see all the sporting and cultural events that I wanted to – but here are a few pictures from those that I did.


The Chooky Dancers from Galiwinku in north-east Arnhem Land were up first on the main stage and as ever they gave their all – they started off with a set of traditional dances and songes before launching into their more contemporary work.

Chooky Dancers on the Barunga sandground

A Chooky Dancer

A Chooky Dancer takes a breather...
Wilson Manydjerri Ganambarr, singer for the Chooky Dancers' traditional set
The Chooky's kicking up some sand

After the Chooky Dancers I hung around for the first rock band of the night, The Lonely Boys from Ngukurr down near the mouth of the mighty Roper River in south-east Arnhem Land.

The Lonely Boys look and sound more than capable and follow on the long tradition of hard rocking bands from that part of the world. A band to keep an eye and ear on…

Watching Ngukurr's The Lonely Boys..and hanging onto that football
The singer from The Lonely Boys from Ngukurr

I pulled the pin around the end of The Lonely Boys’ set so missed the other bands. I’d love to see the Lonely Boys again in a hot sweaty pub…

I spent most of the next couple of days at the footy ground. Most of the preliminary games were two twenty-minutes quarters long – so there was lots of action.

A fast offload...
Almost gotcha...

All the finalists had been sorted by late Sunday. Monday would see Ngukurr Youth v St Johns College playing in the “B” Grade Grand Final and in the “A” Grade match the Marrijic Eagles from Numbulwar on the east Arnhem Land coast would play off against the Bauhinia Buffaloes from Borroloola in the Gulf country.

The Ngukurr Youth team line up before the game.

The “B” Grade final was a bit of a squib, with the brave Ngukurr team being rolled comprehensively by the superior skills and speed of the young men from St. Johns College from Darwin…but they didn’t go down without a good fight.

Ball up at Barunga! - Ngukurr Youth and St Johns ruckmen fly high.

Ngukurr went down 2:0 – 12 to St Johns 7:10 – 52.

The A Grade Grand Final was a far more even affair – at least in the first two quarters. The Bauhinia Buffaloes had a 3 point lead at the first break which was stretched to 16 points at the half, leading 6:2 – 38 to the Marrijic Eagles with 3:4 – 22.

Buffaloes kicked away to a good lead in the first half.

The top-level grand final was – as the old saw goes – a game very much of two halves. In the third quarter the Marrijic Eagles turned a 16 point deficit into a 20 point advantage – going into the final break having kicked 6 unanswered goals.

Yes, that is a definite push-in-the-back...

The Bauhinia Buffaloes hit back with two quick goals in the final quarter – to the Eagles’ single major – but it was never enough to bridge the gap.

The Marrijic Eagles led the way from the centre ball-ups...

The final score – Bauhinia Buffaloes 7:2 – 44 to Marrijic Eagles 10:4 – 64.

A happy bunch of Eagles supporters...

OK, I'm ready for the game...

So, if you are looking to fill a gap in your calender for next year – you could do far worse than to slot in next year’s Barunga Festival for a few cool days in the dry season.

To get there you take the Stuart Highway south of Katherine (itself 300km south of Darwin) to the Central Arnhem Highway (50km). Turn left at the Central Arnhem Highway towards Beswick, continue for 30km and turn right at Barunga which will be well signposted. The road is sealed and easily accessible by 2 wheel drive.