Arnhem Land: Dancing with the Aboriginals

June 5, 2023
By Patrick Cros

On the other side of the world, ancient traditions are gradually fading away in our modern society. However, many Aboriginal people still uphold their authenticity, particularly in regions like Borroloola in Arnhem Land (Northern Territory), where the Malandarri Festival took place in June 16th to 17th, 2023.

The vast straight road stretches as far as the eye can see, in proportion to the immense size of this island, equivalent to fourteen times the size of France, with a population of barely 26 million people. Landscapes among the oldest on the planet seem to echo the legends of the Dreamtime, which explain the origin of the world according to the Aboriginals. They mysteriously hover amidst rocks with peculiar shapes, in the heart of eucalyptus and acacia forests, and around strange formations that date back millions of years.

After two days of driving on 4x4 tracks, Borroloola appears in all its simplicity, 970 kilometers southeast of Darwin. Here, there are no skyscrapers, traffic lights, or glitter, but rather plywood houses with tin roofs and spacious verandas. According to the latest census, three-quarters of its 800 inhabitants proudly affirm their Aboriginal identity, belonging to the Yanyuwa, Marra, Gundanji, and Garrawa communities. The town is renowned for its natural beauty and ecological diversity. The surroundings of Borroloola offer spectacular landscapes, such as the gorges of the McArthur River. The region is also rich in fauna and flora, with an abundance of birds, fish, and crocodiles.

To the rhythm of didgeridoos

The small town and its region are ideal for discovering local traditions. It is here that the Malandarri Festival (formerly known as Waralungku DanceSite) is organized every year, celebrating the diversity of traditional dances in the Northern Territory. This site is an important cultural place managed by local Aboriginal communities, particularly the Yanyuwa, Garrwa, Gurdanji, and Mara. It is a sacred place where ancestral knowledge is transmitted and preserved (

The festival showcases the richness of this people, whose living culture is considered the oldest in the world. Enthusiastically embraced by the event, the youth appear happy to embody the future of a people that has often lost its bearings in contact with our modern and materialistic world. Proud of their traditions, some dance to the chants of the elders, to the rhythm of didgeridoos and other instruments. The younger ones take the opportunity to run and play ball with carefree abandon. The future lies ahead of them, just as it does for Yody, whose gaze reflects the spirit of a young child caught between two cultures, between two worlds, but always proud of the Aboriginal blood running through his veins.

Discovering and respecting traditions

The Waralungku dance site is open to visitors who wish to learn more about Aboriginal culture and witness traditional dance performances. However, it is important to respect the customs and rules of the site and to obtain prior permission to access it. The preservation and promotion of Aboriginal culture are crucial elements for the communities in the Borroloola region, and the Waralungku dance site plays a central role in these efforts. It provides a unique opportunity to connect with the history, traditions, and spirituality of Australia's indigenous peoples.

We acknowledge the Traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Owners of the land, sea and waters of the Australian continent, and recognise their custodianship of culture and Country for over 60,000 years.

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