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5 things you should know about Yabun Festival

A look back on the evolution of Yabun Festival.

Yabun means ‘music to a beat’

The word ‘Yabun’ means ‘music to a beat’ in Gadigal language. In its early years, it was more a big concert, a place where legendary performers like the late Uncle Archie Roach and Uncle Jimmy Little took to the stage. As well as local and up and coming acts of the day like Jessica Mauboy, Dan Sultan and Emma Donavan.

There’s still plenty of live music, and the line-up includes favourites and new artists.

Don’t miss Yabun 2024, with cultural performance, music, a bustling stalls market, panel discussions and community forums, and children’s activities.

The Sapphires perform at Yabun Festival 2005, Redfern Park (City of Sydney Archives, A-00065491)

Crowds at Yabun Festival 2005, Redfern Park (City of Sydney Archives, A-00065503)

Dan Sultan performing at Yabun 2020. Image: Joseph Mayers

A continuation of the first Survival Day events

Yabun was founded in 2001 as a continuation of the very first Survival Day events during the 1990s. Those original gatherings were about celebrating the survival and resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures, and to honour those who fought for justice and equality.

But in fact, its inspiration draws from the Day of Mourning in 1938 – the first national Aboriginal civil rights gathering ever to take place on the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet.  

Aboriginal men and women, many of them activists and leaders, gathered in protest to the conditions imposed on them by Aboriginal protection boards that were operating all over Australia. These boards had total control over their lives and included the systematic removal of their children, now referred to as the Stolen Generations. This eventually led to major reforms and finally, the 1967 referendum – but that was still a long way away.  

Brolga Dance Academy at Yabun Festival 2023 at Victoria Park, Camperdown. Image: Joseph Mayers

Established and still run from Redfern

The event was established by Gadigal Information Service Aboriginal Corporation, a community controlled Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts/media hub based in Redfern that was founded in response to negative stereotypes and stigmatism portrayed by mainstream media. Its goal was to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples a platform to present their own stories from the past and aspirations for the future.  

It’s also home to Koori Radio, which broadcasts 24/7 to the greater Sydney region on 93.7FM and online to the world. The station focuses on a mix of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music from around Australia and includes international Indigenous music combined with talkback, news, current affairs, chat and community information.  

Gadigal Information Service, including its board, employees and volunteers, are the reason Yabun continues to be so successful.

New Koori Radio building and Gadigal Information Services offices on Cope St, Redfern. Artwork: Cherry Pickers by Blak Douglas

A time for truth-telling and sharing the community’s voice

Yabun has evolved with the needs of the local community and beyond. Although the festival originally focused on music, it was clear that other forms of cultural expression and discussion were needed.

The Speak Out tent is now one of the most popular elements of the day, featuring community members and Elders talking about important topics that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The Corroboree ground is a place for cultural practitioners and dance groups to tell their stories through performance and movement that has continued for thousands of generations.

Harbour Beizam performing at Yabun Festival 2023. Image: Joseph Mayers

An alternative way to commemorate

The festival started as a space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to celebrate their cultures and survival, and to commemorate those who came before in the fight for justice. It now has a broad appeal, with numbers growing every year. 

It shows the desire of non-Indigenous Australians to move away from marking a day associated with invasion and standing instead with First Nations peoples, in a vibrant celebration of cultures, survival and identity.

Yabun Festival 2020. Image: Joseph Mayers

Visit Sydney Barani if you'd like more information about Aboriginal Sydney City. Images from Yabun Festival 2005 sourced from First Nations Archival Collections.