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From the ground up: growing an Australian Aboriginal cultural festival into a live musical community

Robin Ryan (Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, Faculty of Education and Arts, Edith Cowan University, Perth, Australia)
Jasmin Williams (South East Arts Cultural Programs, South East Arts, Bega, Australia)
Alison Simpson (Cultural Inclusion, Twofold Aboriginal Corporation, Eden, Australia)

Arts and the Market

ISSN: 2056-4945

Article publication date: 16 August 2021

Issue publication date: 1 September 2021




The purpose is to review the formation, event management, performance development and consumption of South East Australia’s inaugural 2018 Giiyong Festival with emphasis on the sociocultural imaginary and political positionings of its shared theatre of arts.


A trialogue between a musicologist, festival director and Indigenous stakeholder accrues qualitative ethnographic findings for discussion and analysis of the organic growth and productive functioning of the festival.


As an unprecedented moment of large-scale unity between First and non-First Nations Peoples in South East Australia, Giiyong Festival elevated the value of Indigenous business, culture and society in the regional marketplace. The performing arts, coupled with linguistic and visual idioms, worked to invigorate the Yuin cultural landscape.

Research limitations/implications

Additional research was curtailed as COVID-19 shutdowns forced the cancellation of Giiyong Festival (2020). Opportunities for regional Indigenous arts to subsist as a source for live cultural expression are scoped.

Practical implications

Music and dance are renewable cultural resources, and when performed live within festival contexts they work to sustain Indigenous identities. When aligned with Indigenous knowledge and languages, they impart central agency to First Nations Peoples in Australia.

Social implications

The marketing of First Nations arts contributes broadly to high political stakes surrounding the overdue Constitutional Recognition of Australia's Indigenous Peoples.


The inclusive voices of a festival director and Indigenous manager augment a scholarly study of SE Australia's first large Aboriginal cultural festival that supplements pre-existing findings on Northern Australian festivals.



The authors gratefully acknowledge useful direction provided by editors Chris Anderton and Sergio Pisfil and our anonymous referees. Many thanks to Elder Uncle Ossie Cruse of the Yuin-Monaro Nation, Executive Director Andrew Gray of South East Arts, and Dr. Aline Scott-Maxwell of Monash University for reading over our manuscript. The authors are also indebted to Screen Industry Development Officer Kate Howarth of South East Arts for key information and statistics, and to David Rogers for photography.


Ryan, R., Williams, J. and Simpson, A. (2021), "From the ground up: growing an Australian Aboriginal cultural festival into a live musical community", Arts and the Market, Vol. 11 No. 2, pp. 92-108.



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