Laura Dance Festival – Quinkan Celebration of the World’s Oldest Living Culture

Laura Festival

Laura Dance Festival is a Quinkan celebration of Aboriginal culture in Queensland, Australia.

This spectacular festival that runs every second year offers locals and visitors the opportunity to engage with First Nation communities and learn about Australia’s rich and diverse history.

With sacred dust swirling triumphantly from the sacred grounds at Ang-Gnarra, the Quinkan Laura Dance Festival is the world’s longest-running biennial celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.

Laura Dance Festival - colourful dancers
Laura Dance Festival – colourful dancers

The festival takes place every odd year in the Australian winter, and representatives from across the Cape York Peninsula and other communities converge on Ang-Gnarra, a significant Aboriginal site 15 km south of Laura, in Queensland.

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Tickets are already on sale for the next Laura Quinkan Dance Festival, which will be held in July 2023.

Tickets are available from the organiser’s website.

What is the Quinkan Laura Dance Festival?

The Quinkan Laura Dance Festival is a three-day gathering for Aboriginal communities from Cape York, and visitors from further afield.

The dance festival is situated on an ancient, traditional Bora ground, and has been a highlight of the Aboriginal cultural calendar since the early 1980s.

Bora grounds are the sites of traditional Aboriginal ceremonies. The most common arrangement of a Bora ground is two rock circles linked with a path.

Laura Dance Festival- Kangaroo imitation
Laura Dance Festival- Kangaroo Dance

Bora rings can measure anything up to around 30 meters and have formed a central component of Aboriginal initiation ceremonies since long before the British invaded Australia in 1788.

At the Quinkan Laura Dance Festival, groups from across Cape York come together to celebrate Aboriginal dance, music, and culture.

Children and adults partake in ceremonial dancing in the dust as part of the Aboriginal connection with music and the land itself. As groups dance, they awaken the sacred dust beneath their feet. The ochre dust plumes and joins the dancers in motion.

There’s a whole host of cultural performances, stall-up on-stall of traditional food, and marketing stands as well to promote other landmarks and aspects of Aboriginal culture to visitors.

Over the years, different organisations have taken responsibility for organising the event. In 2021, the Ang-Gnarra Aboriginal Corporation took the reigns and hosted the Quinkan Laura Dance Festival for the first time. This marked an important moment in the festival’s history, as the corporation represents the traditional owners of the land.

There’s something special about Laura

It’s no coincidence that the Quinkan Dance Festival takes place just outside of the town of Laura. This part of Queensland is laden with important Aboriginal archaeological and cultural significance.

In particular, locals and visitors alike are inspired by the large collection of rock paintings, a central part of ancient Aboriginal culture.

Laura Split Rock painting
Laura Split Rock Painting

Rock art in the Cape York Peninsula dates back some 40,000, capturing many legends and landmark events in local Aboriginal culture and history.

Local guides offer guided tours of special sites in the region.

In Laura, perhaps the most significant site to visit is Split Rock. This rock art gallery is respected as one of the most significant in the world and comes with a rubber stamp of approval from UNESCO as being one of the top 10 rock art sites to visit globally.

Split Rock is about 14 km from Laura and it’s possible to take a self-guided tour or be shown around by a local expert. Split Rock is the only rock-art site where it is possible to visit without a guide.

This isn’t your typical art gallery, so there’s quite a bit of walking up and down rocky hills at Split Rock. Best to wear some reliable shoes!

Other impressive sites, local to Laura, include the Mushroom Rock and the Giant Horse. Tours are available that take you to both sites in a half-day trip.

Book your guided tours in advance with the Quinkan Cultural Centre, or one of the many independent Aboriginal guides in Laura.

What is important in Aboriginal Culture?

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities of the Cape York Peninsula maintain a traditional outlook on life and community, that holds a lot more in common with their First Nation ancestors than the modern-Australian mindset, influenced by waves of British and European migration.

Australia’s indigenous peoples are the world’s oldest living culture, outdating ancient sites like Stone Henge in the UK by thousands of years. Currently, First Nation Australians make up less than four percent of the general population of Australia, so having the opportunity to meet and engage authentically with the culture is a very special experience.

Quinkan Dance Festival
Quinkan Dance Festival

There are five pillars that are key to the Aboriginal way of life: land, family, law, ceremony, and language.

Each of the pillars is interwoven and it’s in their combined form that Aboriginal culture emerges.

First Nation communities continue to use their traditional tribal languages, and take their responsibility of passing these traditions to the next generation seriously.

Distinctions exist between different Aboriginal communities, who believe that the land they are from has gifted them their ancestral spirits. Communities from the coast are ‘saltwater people’, whereas those from near rivers are ‘freshwater people’. The land itself becomes an active agent in the Aboriginal experience.

Central cultural events, such as the Quinkan Dance Festival, play a core role in delivering this mission. The festival is buzzing with children, singing and dancing, and celebrating their family’s traditional and future culture.

Aboriginal culture is not a historical artifact. Whilst there are millennia of artefacts and stories in the very land around Laura, there can be no doubt that Aboriginal Culture is as much a present force as it is historical. As much for the future as it is about the past.

Other Aboriginal festivals in Australia

There are many other aboriginal festivals in Australia that celebrate the rich cultural heritage of the country’s indigenous peoples. Some of the most well-known include:

  • Garma Festival: This annual festival is held in the remote Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory and is one of the largest gatherings of indigenous people in Australia. The festival features traditional dances, music, and art, as well as talks and discussions about indigenous culture and history.
  • Barunga Festival: Held annually in the Northern Territory, the Barunga Festival is a celebration of indigenous culture and features traditional dance, music, art, and storytelling. The festival is known for its strong community spirit and is a great opportunity to learn more about the local indigenous culture.
  • Corroboree Festival: This annual festival is held in the Australian Capital Territory and celebrates the culture of the Ngunnawal people, who are the traditional owners of the land in the region. The festival features traditional dance, music, and art, as well as talks and discussions about indigenous culture and history.
  • NAIDOC Week: This week-long celebration is held annually in July and is a nationwide celebration of indigenous culture, history, and achievements. NAIDOC Week events include traditional dance and music performances, art exhibitions, and cultural workshops.

Laura festival supports Voice to Parliament

The Laura Dance Festival has become a symbol of the Aboriginal people’s commitment to preserving their cultural heritage and advocating for their rights. The festival is an opportunity for the First Nation community to come together and celebrate their culture, but it is also a platform for the community to voice their concerns and share their perspectives on the issues that matter to them.

In recent years, the festival has been a powerful platform for the Aboriginal people to call for greater support for their cultural heritage and for the recognition of their rights. The festival provides a space for the community to share their stories and experiences with the wider world, and it has become an important tool for raising awareness of the challenges faced by indigenous communities in Australia.

The festival has also been used as a platform to advocate for the establishment of a Voice to Parliament, a representative body that would give indigenous peoples a formal voice in the decisions that affect their lives and communities. The Quinkan community and other indigenous groups have called for a Voice to Parliament as a way to ensure that their perspectives and needs are heard and considered in the policy-making process.

Overall, the Laura Dance Festival is much more than just a celebration of culture; it is also a platform for the indigenous people to assert their rights and to call for greater support for their heritage and traditions.

The festival provides a powerful reminder of the importance of preserving and celebrating the world’s oldest living cultures, and it is an inspiration to those who believe in the power of cultural heritage to bring communities together and create a better world for all.

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