Culture and Diversity Festivals in Newcastle

One of the difficult parts of being in one of the more urban parts of Australia is that I feel like I’m missing out on a lot of the culture that makes Australia unique. So I was very excited to learn about the Newcastle Unity and Diversity Festival this weekend. So I took the bus into Hamilton, one of the little suburbs here, to join the festivities.

The festival started with a unity march. It was sort of like herding cats to get everyone in line for the festival. It was quite a motley crew of cultures. The parade was lead by some African drummers having a really great time. Then came all the signs letting people know who we were and why we were marching. In front of me were belly dancers playing their drum and finger cymbals.

There were kids banging plastic tubes together just for noise (an organizer thought that was a good idea). Behind me were the Grannies for Refugee Children with their purple hats and shirts.

People were waving olive branches, signs, and having a great time. Someone handed me coexist sign to make sure I didn’t feel left out. There were people from countries all over the world. It was a tiny march but it was really moving. It is so hard to think about the difficulties refugees are facing from countries around the world as they try to find a safe place to land.

After a quick turn around the block, we made it back to the park where we gathered for an Aboriginal Welcoming Ceremony.

Aboriginal Culture

The Awabakal welcome ceremony was really why I had come to the festival. I was excited to learn more about their culture and be a part of it. The MC, Uncle Bill Smith, is an elder of the Mimaga Wajaar (Mother Earther) Traditional Custodians in Newcastle. The dancers were his grandsons and great-grandsons. No one is allowed to participate in the ceremony if they are not part of the mob. The MC began by teaching us a few words in his native language and welcoming us to the event. Here is one piece of the ceremony to check out.

It was fascinating to hear their stories behind the movements. For example when ladies turned into birds and the men had to fight for who would win the lovely birds. I found some of their Dreamtime stories for the local area. Such as the kangaroo in Nobby’s point, the lighthouse I went to a couple weeks ago. Interestingly enough, you can’t read it. The website says the information is men’s business and not for women and children. The MC at the event talked about the fact that many of the stories were only for men or only for women. He also talked about sacred places you should not go. This dance is about such things:

However, if you want to know what happened to the kangaroo, you can read it here. When I was at the Newcastle Museum the day before the ceremony, the education director told me the story when we were talking about cultural ways of knowing science. The story explains why there are earthquakes in the area. An earthquake rocked the city in the 80s and everyone was shocked and surprised. Which they shouldn’t have been as this story has been told for longer than Newcastle was a city.

Other Cultures

Once the traditional dances were finished, I wandered around the festival to see who else was participating. There were lots of food stalls including Congolese, Afgan, Somalian, Persian, and so many more. For fun, I had some henna done by a lovely lady from Afganistan.

After having my hand painted, I had to wait an hour for it to dry. So I headed over to the stage to listen to an Indonesian band. It was quite interesting listening to them play. I’m not even sure what most of the instruments were.

The band was followed by a fashion show from Indonesia. It featured outfits from some of the many islands found in Indonesia. They were beautiful.

From there I walked over to see some girls doing traditional Indian dances. Their dance moms were very upset they were on a side stage and not the main stage.

After the Indian dancers were Russian dancers. I only caught the tail end of it because I was bouncing between stages. There was a Brazillian drum band at another stage that caught my ear. The Russian dancers waved handkerchiefs around looking like Russian nesting dolls. It was interesting that their final piece was a solo dance to an American song sung in Spanish. Talk about diversity.

The last thing I wanted to see before I left was the fire dancers. They were very talented. I decided I could be a fire dancer. What do you think?

I passed the bellydancers on my way out of the park. After following them around in the parade, I didn’t feel the need to watch any more hips shake. So I went and treated myself to some Mexican food at Guzman y Gomez. Chinese and Thai restaurants are on every corner but there is no authentic Mexican to be found. My tacos were wonderful and a perfect end to the diversity festival.

Winter Heat

So I headed back to the house for a quick nap before the next set of festivities. In addition to the Unity Festival, there was another festival taking place called Winter Heat. It had a silent disco, fire spouting off everywhere, and lots of food stalls. We missed the fire dancers as we checked out the food stalls. We did see water dancers though. They had to be freezing as it was in the low 40s and they were splashing around in the water.

The silent disco wasn’t working so well. People were supposed to check out headsets to dance to whichever music they liked in a set area. However, people were checking them out and then walking around the festival with the headsets instead of dancing. There were a few people dancing as we were leaving, though.

We checked out a couple bands and then found a restaurant serving mulled cider. It was pretty good but my recipe is better. For future reference, you need a gallon of apple cider in your crock pot. Then add two cups brown sugar, two cinnamon sticks, and a sliced orange. Let heat on low for a while. When you’re ready to serve, add a fifth of vanilla rum. Cheers!

After the cider, we went looking for fire dancers and found an African drumming group. I found it quite interesting that a lot of the groups with specific locations in their name were not made up of the traditional participants.

This group was very entertaining, though. They ended with a drum circle and passed out drums, shakers, and other noise makers for kids to participate. Everyone seemed to have a good time.

From there we headed to the other stage where I was hoping to finally find fire dancers. On the way, we stopped at the Maritime Museum. It was interesting to see their celestial charts as the stars are very different down here. I need someone to teach me some constellations.

Leaving the museum was when we found the poor girls dancing in the water. It was the opposite of fire, they were doing wind and water. The wind took their water and splashed the people in the front row which made them a little grumpy. But I was happy because I was finally in a position to get a picture of the fire spouting everywhere:

At that point, we decided it was time to go home and have a cup of tea as everyone was pretty chilly. So we headed back towards the car. On our way, we passed the coolest idea for a band: on bikes! Someone played the keyboard and sang on one bike and her drummer was on the back of the other. And they were pirates!

And so ended another jam packed Saturday. I was glad to finally see some of the cultures of the area. Shockingly, I don’t have anything planned for the next two weeks so unless something exciting happens, you may not hear from me again until Emily gets here on the 16th. Then it’s off to explore the Great Barrier Reef! Until then, I have a lot of writing and research to do. I’m actually supposed to be getting work done and not just having fun. But if we’re honest, I’ll probably figure out something awesome this weekend and surprise you. What is your favorite way to explore the culture of a new area?

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