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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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