« My week at the Garma Youth Forum | Blog home | Tackling terrorism at HPAIR Sydney »

By Sarah Prestwidge, a fourth year Bachelor of Music (Music Education) student.

Last month I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Gove, where the Garma Festival is held each year. Garma is a festival that broadly aims to close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians through cross-cultural exchange and awareness. Established by the Yothu Yindi Foundation, it specifically promotes Yolngu culture and aids in enriching their social and economic circumstances.


I represented the University of Sydney as a student leader at Garma 2017. I taught several classes to a variety of students, focusing on music and technology.

The third day of the Festival was a highlight, when I woke up at 4:30am and marched with an army of unknown women and bouncing flashlights, to an off-site area that would become the grounds for our crying ceremony. Here, we gathered on a mat next to elders from the Yolngu mob and a star-lit sky, in an opening amongst the trees. It was neither hot, nor cold at this point in the morning, so with nothing else to concentrate on, I enjoyed a moment to breathe. Soon after, a woman started to sing the songlines of mourning. Then one voice became many, in a stunning polyphony, accompanied by the arrhythmic cries of women.

With each falling star, their cries became more intense and I allowed myself to mourn the hardships that our indigenous people have faced, and those I faced alone as an individual. As mourning turned to morning, an elder announced that it had “healed” her seeing so many women together – women of all colour, language and age. This same elder embraced me after the ceremony. It’s hard to articulate how this ceremony made me feel, but it was certainly the cultural highlight of my experience. I felt accepted, despite having always felt like an Aboriginal woman living between two worlds.

On the same night I was asked to perform at the education forum. I sung a beautiful Italian Aria by Puccini called ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’. After my performance, we all engaged in imperative discussions about the current education system and its implications for indigenous students. Some points that stood out to me include enculturation within schools, bilingual school programs, and the issues of boarding school for indigenous students. Culture needs to be at the forefront of education for indigenous students.

This past week has been enlightening and humbling. I am so grateful for the experience to teach at the Garma Festival 2017 and hope to do so again next year!

The Authors

About the Blog

Everything you ever wanted to know about uni but were too afraid to ask....