Antonina Heymanson made the journey to Tennant Creek with ‘Go Walkabout’ – The Desert Harmony Festival’s volunteer initiative- this is what she found:
508km north of Alice Springs in the Barkley Region, on Warumungu land, lies Tennant Creek: a small town with a predominantly Indigenous, but heartily multicultural community. Tennant Creek is much like you’d imagine it to be: one main street lined with small business’ which dabble in multiple specialties, and a small maze of residential streets expanding in a web from the centre of town. You’ll find a swimming pool, which also happens to offer a killer breakfast and the local BP: home of the best coffee in town.
For the last 29 years the Desert Harmony Festival, hosted by Barkley Regional Arts, was held between a number of venues throughout the town exhibiting new, and recurring ‘evergreen content’ throughout the five days of the festival. A cultural mix of art, food, performance and activities, Desert Harmony is one of a number of festivals in the Northern Territory which invites locals and visitors from all over the country to celebrate diversity of culture, and the importance of land, harmony, and understanding.
This year marked the festivals move to a permanent venue, the showgrounds, the first opportunity for the festival to invest themselves in one location for the future growth of the festival. The theme of ‘People and Belonging’ arose in light of the festival’s increased significance, after the constant and often negative media attention over the last twelve months. It is a perception that has defined Tennant Creek for too long, with travellers often passing through rather than taking the opportunity to explore the history of the goldmining town and the importance of the land to its people.
(Listen as Warumungu Traditional Owner Rosemary Plumber and Barkly Regional Arts- Artistic Director Kathy Burns open Desert Harmony Festival 2018)
In an effort to promote the region, and to entice more people to visit, Barkley Arts joined with Volunteering NT to offer ‘Go Walkabout’, a program inviting people from all over Australia to fly to the Northern Territory and spend ten days on the festival site and experience the beauty and culture of the region for themselves, and beautiful indeed it is.
Blue skies slam onto the red dirt horizon in a razor sharp line, broken only by small hillocks and vegetation in varying shades of eucalyptus green. The sunsets marble across the town, turning the sky vibrant shades of orange, pink and purple around the shimmering disk of a red sun; evenings are no less spectacular. Though cooler than one would expect from the desert, with next to no light pollution skies remain clear, pricked by a million tiny points of light, and shooting stars are not an uncommon appearance if you can stay awake long enough to watch them tear across the sky with bright tails before disappearing in an instant.
It’s not only the physical beauty of the region that is so appealing. The friendliness encountered day to day, the greetings of strangers and small conversations are wonderful insights into a town which proudly boasts over 52 nationalities, a hub of multiculturality tucked away in the desert.
It is this mix of cultural influences which gives Desert Harmony such appeal. Local businesses set up food stalls, children from the high school, and the work camp fellas perform set after music set and people from all over Australia, and indeed the world, come to perform and run workshops. Cabaret, ballet and a three course dinner with wine pairings are all part of the program, and there are DJ workshops, hop-hop classes and performances by Goldilocks and the Three B’s amongst many others for the kids.
Nonetheless the focus on culture and the meaning, and importance of the people whose culture persists in their knowledge and work, took pride of place amongst the events of the long weekend. Bush botanicals and bush medicine shared knowledge of local flora, and offered festival goers the chance to understand their contemporary and historical use. A small market selling art pieces created by local women directly channelled profits to artists and community.
Special appearances by Warren H. Williams, central Australia’s most well-known Aboriginal country singer; and Deb Moro, returning to the stage after a long hiatus, were highlights amongst the performances on over the weekend, and the BAMFest gathered a healthy and hearty crowd that danced and sang till the evening’s close.
Each of the venues featured a name denoting a native animal in Wurrumungu language, and cultural tours run by a local family business brought people out of the festival arena into the town and local surrounds for a cultural journey through time and story. Culinary demonstrations featuring kangaroo tail, a local delicacy, and bush scones were amongst the delicious foods on offer.
Desert Harmony has great potential and opportunity to influence the town of Tennant Creek, creating an open and welcoming space to share performance, culture, knowledge and appreciation. In many ways probably so unlike the place you call home, it’s worth travelling across the desert to be a part of, in a place that is remarkably beautiful, remote and powerful. Now Desert Harmony Festival it has a permanent home, it will continue to grow and develop, investing time in the space with the great abundance of creativity and enthusiasm that brings the festival and the town to life.
Written By Antonina Heymanson
Audio by 8CCC Community Radio