5 Of The Most Incredible Indigenous Experiences You Can Have in Queensland This Year

Cairns Indigenous Art Fair
Brought to you by Tourism and Events Queensland 

Showcasing the best live events in Queensland.

With a 50,000-year history, the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are some of the oldest continuing cultures in the world. Celebrating Indigenous culture is pretty important to us, with communities around the country hosting hundreds of experiences each year to educate, inspire, and pass on their deep-rooted customs and beliefs.

From large-scale, multi-disciplinary arts festivals, to more intimate dance performances, these are some of the most incredible Indigenous experiences you can be part of in Queensland this year.

#1 Cairns Indigenous Art Fair

Cairns Indigenous Art Fair

Prepare for complete cultural immersion at the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF). Over one weekend, you can soak up mountains of amazing art, meet with the makers, listen to some incredible music, watch traditional and contemporary dance and, in general, learn a whole lot more about Queensland’s Indigenous cultures.

Taking place over the weekend of July 10 to 14, the art fair is considered Australia’s premier Indigenous art fair – but it isn’t just for the art collectors, curators, and media. Anyone can head down and enjoy the festival, and purchase (or commission, if that’s your style) art pieces from the presenting artists. There’s also a market that has original items to suit any budget, meaning anybody can start (or start adding to) their collection without breaking the bank.

If you’re there for the performances, you won’t want to miss the fashion performance Bulwa-barra – “Messenger” Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow. or the stunning Cultural Heights choral recital, sung in traditional language.

While You’re There

Keep it cultural with a visit to the impressive Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, post CIAF. There’s plenty more dance, art, and music to experience here, as well as some new experiences like spear and boomerang throwing or a guided bushfood walk. When you’re well and truly tuckered out, relax with views out over the big blue at Cairns’ first rooftop bar, Rocco.

#2 Quandamooka Festival

Minjerribah’s (North Stradbroke Island) Quandamooka Festival is Queensland’s largest celebration of Indigenous culture, country, and people. It is the best opportunity you will get to learn more about the “country” – the sands, seas, lakes, creeks and creatures – of the Redlands and Moreton Bay Islands, direct from the Quandamooka people themselves. This year, the festival theme is Jandai Wuluara, Ngaliya Wulara, Jandai Lingo, Our Lingo, a nod to 2019 being the International Year of Indigenous Languages.

Celebrated across the winter months, the festival runs from June 1 to August 31. The festival has a huge directory of events celebrating the unique landscape and people of the region. To witness the magic of the annual whale migration, plan to be on the island on June 2 for the traditional Aboriginal celebration of Yura Yalingbila (Welcome the Whales), where you can watch the whales travelling through Quandamooka waters.

While You’re There

Pack your binoculars and hit the North Gorge Walk. Along the way, play wildlife spotto and keep an eye out for the kangaroos, koalas, turtles, mantarays and dolphins. Post walk, treat yourself to a native dining experience with Kieron Anderson from Quandamooka Coast. With over 200 native edibles in the region, who knows what interesting things you are going to get to try?

#3 Yarrabah Band Festival

Boasting alumni like Paul Kelly and Montaigne, Yarrabah Band Festival is back on June 15.

Held on the traditional lands of the Gunggandji and Yidinji People in Yarrabah on Tropical North Queensland’s coast, this star-studded annual show is more than just a music festival. To the Yarrabah locals, this is an “experience festival”, where music and culture collide. A true community festival, people from all around Australia come together over the weekend to celebrate and interact with the Indigenous community of Yarrabah.

There’s music, community hosted workshops, a bunch of locally run stalls and food vendors to enjoy throughout the day. Before the big names hit the stage, check out the budding local artists warming it up – some are as young as 6 years of age!

While You’re There

Pop into the Yarrabah Arts and Cultural Centre, where local Indigenous artists create some of the country’s most recognisable ceramics, woven goods, and paintings.

Then, block out one of your Tuesday or Thursday nights for a mind-blowing evening with Flames of the Forest. They’ll pick you up from Cairns and get you to the rainforest, where you will dine and be a part of the traditions of storytelling and didgeridoo, all under the canopy of trees and stars. If you miss out, you can still get a good feed along the Cairns Boardwalk. Try The Boatshed or Mondo on The Waterfront for uninterrupted ocean views.

#4 Meeanjin Markets

Meeanjin Markets, Brisbane

The Meeanjin Markets bring the spirit of the country right into to the heart of the CBD.

Back in Brisbane this year from May 31 to June 1, the Meeanjin Markets give you the opportunity to meet and connect with Indigenous communities without having to venture too far out of town.

There will be plenty of stalls selling authentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts and crafts, or you can get busy and try making some yourself at a weekend workshop. You can even try your hand at didgeridoo carving. If your whittling and crafting skills aren’t quite up to scratch, try expanding your palette with some native Australian foods, or just celebrate and enjoy the traditional music and dance performances across the weekend.

While You’re There

Wander through the inner-city parklands and along the beach at Southbank and, for just a minute, forget that you’re in the middle of the city. Then, pull up for some pizza and a pint or two at Tippler’s Tap, before getting some shut eye at the brand new W Hotel.

#5 Perspectives Of Brisbane

New Farm Park, Brisbane

Become a full bottle on Brisbane’s past at the Perspectives of Brisbane exhibition at the Brisbane Museum. The installation explores several themes relating to Brisbane’s history, including the traditional owners of the land, convict history and settlement. There are stories, facts, photos and film to give you an insight into the unique people and land that have made Brisbane what it is today.

As a part of the semi-permanent exhibition, local Aboriginal artist Judy Watson has created two unmissable media works – one that explores the ongoing connection to the traditional owners of the country, and another that takes you on a journey from the beginning of the Brisbane River, through to Moreton Bay.

While You’re There

After brushing up on your history, check out something more contemporary at the Henderson Gallery in the city, where four Indigenous artists have their work on display. When the hunger sets in, head down to the Howard Smith Wharves for some spanakopita and dolomades at Greca.

Once you’re done for the day, hang out by the pool at the sub-tropical, California-esque hotel, The Calile.

(Images courtesy of Tourism & Events Queensland)

To find your perfect next Queensland event, click here.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated Yothu Yindi would play the Yarrabah Band Festival. The article has been updated to reflect that they are not slated to appear at this year’s event.