The Story behind Milpirri Festival

The Milpirri Festival has been happening since 2005 and is a collaboration between the Lajamanu Community, Tracks Dance Company and Lajamanu School. Aimed at linking the energy of youth and the wisdom of the old, gaining better understanding between western and Warlpiri ways of learning, and for making people feel good about who they are and where they live - Lajamanu. Sadly growing out of the first youth suicide in Lajamanu, the Milpirri Festival importantly works towards giving people a sense of belonging in times of rapid change.

Recognising that young people in Lajamanu today could lose their cultural knowledge birthrights, senior people in the community decided to encourage children to become part of a community celebration using contemporary dance as a way of inspiring their interest and allowing them to show off their skills.

Every second year, Tracks Dance Company employs a group of highly experienced arts workers who travel to Lajamanu to work with the community for six weeks. This team of cultural and community development workers include skills in dance, music, visual arts and production. The Tracks Artistic Directors, Tim Newth and David McMicken, work closely with Steve Jampijinpa Patrick and other senior members of the community to develop the major themes and produce that year’s performance. The team deliver daily workshops in the school to create the sound track and the youth dance sections. The Milpirri training is not just focused on getting people active physically, it is intended to stimulate their thinking about who they are and what it means to be Warlpiri and Australian.

Drawing from extensive Warlpiri knowledge systems, Milpirri explores people’s connections to country and each other, revealing how lessons for better living can be drawn from understanding and observing the world around you. As sacred beings transformed the landscape, their actions formed the connections between people and the rules for living that still underpin Warlpiri thinking today. Much of the ceremonial dance in Milpirri is more than a reenactment of the ancestral beings journeys. Through dance,  the performers reconnect and channel the power of these sacred beings and reaffirm their strength and relevance to people today.

The same stories and country that are brought to life in the ceremonial performances, are the basis for the contemporary dance done by the children. Knowledge about country and ceremony is earned and gained over a lifetime and children are taught an ‘outside’ or public version  of the stories before earning the right to learn higher degrees of knowledge as they become older. This outside story provides the context for the contemporary hip hop and break dancing performed by the children, helping them learn about their own culture while allowing them to express themselves in a contemporary form.

The Success Stories

Milpirri continues to have an enormous effect on the community. In the lead up to previous Milpirri Festivals teachers have reported a higher level of engagement with the children as Warlpiri cultural concepts are integrated into the teaching program. The general physical fitness of the community is also significantly improved as children and adults become active in the program.

It is now widely recognised that in the Aboriginal health area physical health is only one part of the story and that the social, emotional and cultural wellbeing of the whole community is critical if individuals are to achieve their full potential. Milpirri contributes to this by involving everybody, and on the night of the performance the whole community comes out to watch and perform.

Sponsors and Partners 

Milpirri Festival could not continue to exist without the valued support of its sponsors and partners. These include: Newmont Asia Pacific, Warlpiri Youth Development Aboriginal Corporation, GMAAAC, the Northern Territory Government, the Lajamanu Progress Association, Southern Cross Television, the Australia Council for the Arts, Lajamanu School, Dreamedia and the Central Desert Shire.