From Cairns to the Cape, you’ll find an annual program of Indigenous events that bring to life a culture 60,000 years in the making. Your ticket not only grants you entry, but a backstage pass to the stories and traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation.
Considering Tropical North Queensland is the only place in the world where both of Australia’s ancient Indigenous cultures meet – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander – there’s good cause for celebration all year round.
What are you waiting for? Start blocking out annual leave days to experience one of these unmissable Indigenous events in Tropical North Queensland.
Gimuy Fish Festival
Taking over Fogarty Park in central Cairns, the Gimuy Fish Festival is a cultural celebration with a cause. Beneath the dancing, music and free food to fuel the party atmosphere, the event aims to encourage sustainable fishing practices and better inform consumer choices.
The event does this subtly through its program, which includes a popular cook-off where local restaurants go head-to-head, dishing up over 200 free meals in the hope of snaring the coveted title of Gimuy’s Top Chef.
When you’re not indulging in cuisine, catch the Yidinji dancers in action or wander the market stalls, which celebrate Indigenous culture, the environment and the seafood industry.
Date: 8 August 2021
Location: Fogarty Park, Cairns
Yarrabah Music and Cultural Festival
For the ultimate musical microcosm of ‘how it started vs how it’s going’, pay a visit to the Yarrabah Music and Cultural Festival.
Harking back to 1901 when people gathered to hear the Yarrabah Brass Band, the community of Yarrabah, just east of Cairns, now plays host to a full day of music, arts and food to celebrate local talent, who perform alongside national music acts.
Previous years have seen big-name artists such as Paul Kelly, Archie Roach, Yothu Yindi and Baker Boy grace the stage with the 2021 lineup still to be announced.
Besides good tunes you can expect hands-on demonstrations like spear making, shield making and weaving across the multiple stages.
Dates: 9 October 2021
Cairns Indigenous Art Fair
Art buff or not, time your visit to Tropical North Queensland with the annual Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF), which brings together Indigenous artists and their works for five days of cultural connection.
Celebrating the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures through colours, designs and artforms (from paintings to pottery and dance to song), the headline event within is the Art Fair, which will be held in the Cairns Convention Centre.
Each year, CIAF attracts high-level collectors and curators, providing a platform for Indigenous artists to reach new audiences and sell their wares, earning its place as one of the most iconic Indigenous experiences in the Cairns calendar.
Date: 10-14 November 2021
Location: Cairns, various locations
Laura Quinkan Dance Festival
Feel the ground shake, see the dust fly and move to the rhythm at Queensland’s longest-running Indigenous event, Laura Quinkan Dance Festival.
The atmosphere of this dance festival is the stuff of goosebumps, with Laura attracting up to 1,000 performers from 20 different Aboriginal communities for three days of cultural celebration.
Every second year, Laura’s stage is set for this dance party, which combines dance with art and Indigenous workshops for festival goers to roll up their sleeves for a hands-on experience.
The location of this festival is no coincidence – for centuries, Laura has been a central meeting place for the Cape’s Indigenous population and home to some of the most well-preserved and oldest rock art on the planet.
When you’re not moving to the music, visit some of the nearby Quinkan Rock Art galleries, touted by UNESCO as one of the top 10 rock art sites in the world.
Date: 2-4 July 2021
Location: Laura, Cape York
Cooktown & Cape York Expo 2021
Set on the meeting ground of Indigenous and European cultures back in 1770, the Cooktown & Cape York Expo 2021 shares its settlement story through music, dance and food.
It’s Cooktown’s blend of Indigenous and non-indigenous stories that give the 2021 event its theme – reconciliation – with a program that focuses on both culture’s shared history over the last 250 years.
Even if you can’t commit to all 10 days of the festival, don’t miss the headline event, Reconciliation Rocks (11-13 June), where Cape York rock band Black Image, Busby Marou and Troy Cassar-Daley will take to the stage.
Amongst the program you’ll find history re-enacted including Captain Cook’s landing and a reconciliation commemoration.
Dates: 11-20 June 2021
Location: Cooktown, various locations
Ruchook Cultural Festival
Every second year, the community of Napranum on the west coast of Cape York hosts a celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, and everyone’s invited.
You can expect two days packed with music, dance and art, with intimate workshops that encourage participation.
Rather than merely spectate, this is a chance to immerse yourself in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture in a town whose name literally translates to ‘meeting place of people’.
Dates: 23-24 July 2021
Big Talk One Fire Cultural Festival
Considering there are 17 Indigenous communities in Cape York alone, one of the challenges in discovering Australia’s Indigenous culture is the fact it’s so spread out.
Enter Big Talk One Fire Indigenous Cultural Festival, which aims to showcase the many cultures of North Queensland in one showcase event on the Cairns Esplanade. Local Indigenous bands will take to the stage, alongside traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dancers throughout the day-long program. Pop-up Indigenous market stalls will also takeover the Esplanade for the ultimate souvenir of your time in Tropical North Queensland.
Date: 24 July 2021
Location: Fogarty Park, Cairns
Keep the Flame of Culture Burning
Keep the Flame of Culture Burning is not a static festival. Much like the culture it celebrates, even the event itself is nomadic.
Unlike other events in this list, this festival progresses through the five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities of Injinoo, Umagico, Seisia, New Mapoon and Bamaga. To symbolise what this cultural festival stands for – peace, unity and the flame of culture – a carved torch is lit and travels to each of the communities throughout the festival dates, finishing in Bamaga for the main celebration.
Across its five locations, an action-packed program of traditional carving workshops, art exhibitions, cultural walkabouts and local tours keeps this four-day festival pacey.
Dates: 25-26 June 2021
Location: Injinoo, Umagico, Seisia, New Mapoon and Bamaga