Publication Details

Slater, L. (2014). Sovereign bodies: Australian Indigenous cultural festivals and flourishing lifeworlds. In A. Bennett, J. Taylor and I. Woodward (Eds.), The Festivalisation of Culture (pp. 131-146). London: Ashgate.

Additional Publication Information

ISBN: 9781409431985


In 2008, I was an observer at a two-day workshop concerned with the future of the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival. The delegates were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from across Cape York Peninsula, representing communities (Indigenous townships) that dance at this long-running event. There was an openfloor discussion; following cultural protocols, one by one elders got to their feet to speak for country. A highly respected elder told of how he and his family cared for country - walked, talked, sung, hunted, burned - to keep their ancestral lands healthy, as the land looked after them. He then passionately implored his audience to understand that dancing at the Laura festival is the same. My memory is of the old man becoming animated and agile, made young as his feet stomped the floor, his traditional country manifest in the room. As someone who has been to many Indigenous festivals, I saw dust rising, that old man dancing. After him, elders stressed their support for the festival and its role in gathering people from across the region to strengthen and affirm the Cape as a multicultural Aboriginal domain, and as a means to maintain and develop strong culture for the Cape and surrounding communities. All the participants then undertook an exercise to arrive at the festival purpose or mission statement. Despite the range of people and communities in the room, it did not take long for consensus to emerge. The countrymen were unanimous that the Laura Festival is a significant event for maintaining cultural integrity and passing on tradition to young people. That old man does not dance alone.