Yaama Ngunna Baaka Corroboree visits drought stricken Murray Darling communities

Menindee Lakes in July. Photo: Coral Wynter

More than 200 people are set to tour north-western New South Wales to bear witness to some of the state’s driest rivers and bring back solutions for the water crisis affecting local communities.

The five-day Yaama Ngunna Baaka Corroboree Festival Bus Tour will meet with affected communities in Walgett, Brewarrina, Bourke, Wilcannia and Menindee between September 28 and October 3. Each night, 12 Aboriginal dance groups from all over the country will dance on the river banks.  

The tour has been organised by Muruwari and Budjiti man Bruce Shillingsworth, with the support of Water for the Rivers and the corroboree Yaama Ngunna Baaka group.

Shillingsworth, an artist and educator who grew up in the town of Brewarrina, spoke to Green Left Weekly’s Rachel Evans about the tour.

Why did you organise the tour?

I think the idea came about over the Christmas break when the fish kills happened and we saw how it affected First Nations people. The rivers were spoiled, along with the food that it brings.

We can’t live without the rivers. Through the kills, a lot more people became aware of the destruction of the rivers and our environment.

Why are you organising a festival?

Well, we have been gathering on the rivers for ages. We wanted to bring back that culture and tradition to encourage that and empower First Nations communities.

We wanted to build an awareness of the surroundings and of the thousands of years that First Nations people have lived and survived here. This festival is about music, dance and storytelling, it’s about language, it’s about showing how to live with the rivers, naturally. 

You were very well-placed to organise this festival, weren’t you?

Yes, I had a lot of friends and groups helping. Socialist Alliance played a big role in this.

A number of us spoke of a Corroborree Festival and since then the tour has grown out of a small conversation. We planted a seed and saw how it grew.

Why do you think the rivers are running dry?

Corporate greed is taking too much from the rivers, they are the ones holding the water back from the rivers: the cotton farmers, the big irrigators. They have sucked it dry.

The government have improperly managed the rivers, they have overused the river’s water.

Then there is drought. That is also man-made.

Man has created this crisis.

Who is coming along?

We want everyone to come along and get experience with the communities who have suffered for years. Non-Indigenous people need to get that experience, to see what people are living with. We need to let Indigenous peoples’ voices be heard.

What do you see happening after the tour?

That everyone will come back and be motivated to get water back in the rivers.

Up there, we will build stronger networks and help with what they are organising in those communities. We don’t want to just talk about it; we are going to get out and do something about it [and] build on the relationships and connections of First Nations peoples.

How can people help the tour right now?

Make a small donation for the travel costs of Aboriginal dancers and food, buy a T-shirt to help the people, donate the cereal and water we need, and spread the word.

What are you aiming for?

We want to get water back into the rivers.

Look at the way we are treating Mother Earth; this is the reality of the destruction of planet we are living in. People will wake up. This tour is part of this awakening. 

There are over 200 people coming on the tour. Was this expected? 

Actually, I am overwhelmed and surprised. So many people want to be part of the solution-making.

We are creating a better environment. Water is a natural resource. We need to protect it and manage it properly.

[The Yaama Ngunna Baaka Corroboree Festival Bus Tour is being supported by water activists, unions, architects, artists, Friends of the Earth and Green Left Weekly. To find out more visit ngunna.com/dance.]

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