2019 Parrtjima: A Festival of Light

It’s that time of the year again where the heart of Australia comes to life with festivals and creativity. One of my all-time favourite festivals, Parrtjima: A Festival of Light, has once again lit up the Red Centre with spectacular lights and colours, and this year the theme was Language Expressions.

You are forgiven if you have never heard of Parrtjima Festival, it’s relatively new having only been around for the past 4 years or so. Parrtjima: A Festival of Light, is all about seeing Australian Aboriginal cultures in “a new light” by show casing elements of the oldest continuing culture in the world with a focus on the Arrernte people (the Aboriginal people local to the Alice Springs or Mparntwe area). The festival runs for 10 nights packed with nightly workshops, short films, live music, and of course, spectacular light installations.  As I said earlier, the purpose of the festival is to showcase Australian Aboriginal culture from the central and western desert region so visitors can develop a deeper respect for it, and to try and ensure the continuation of these cultures.

2019 is the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages, so it makes sense that Language Expressions was the theme for this year.

“This is the UN Year of Indigenous Languages. Traditional Languages are vital to providing age-old knowledge continuance of story, culture and connection to Country. Through our thematic of language expression, Parrtjima 2019 once again provides a unique platform and an exchange of new expressions and a dialogue that is relevant to the 21st Century.” – Rhoda Roberts AO

A large sculpture of a stock man lit up with fairy lights at the 2019 Festival of Light
Just to put this amazing sculpture into context, it was easily over twice my height!

This is one of the songs played as part of one of the 2018 Parrtjima light displays. I’m including it because it provides a nice overview of the artworks displayed and the importance of keeping culture strong. The song itself goes for 14 minutes, and you certainly don’t have to listen to the whole thing, but the first couple of minutes provide the explanation.

So where is the festival held?

The festival takes part in two locations in Alice Springs: The Desert Park and The Todd Mall.

The Todd Mall hosts a small installation of lights in the shape of moths (last year there were caterpillars), which was specifically requested by the Arrernte people as part of their Dreaming. There are 7 moth statues that light up and are complemented by a mini light show that displays Aboriginal artwork and Dreaming stories along the ground of The Todd Mall. It almost feels magical to stand in these lights.

The Language of Kin was the entrance tunnel to the 2019 Parrtjima Festival

The Desert Park is the main location of the festival and features the largest light displays. Every year Mt Gillen is lit up with an amazing light display accompanied with traditional music to tell a creation story. It is a truly spectacular display that cannot be adequately captured on camera (by the likes of me at least).

This year there were five light displays (excluding the main event on the ranges) spread across a small section of The Desert Park: The Language of Kin, The Language of Stockmen, The Language of Children, The Language of Change, and Grounded.

The Language of Children utilized school buses with recorded stories

This festival isn’t just about the light shows. The music that accompanies it is also pretty amazing. You can follow the Parrtjima playlist on Sound Cloud to help you get a feel for the vibe of the festival. My favourite tracks are From sunset to sunrise – ingwe-irreme, inwartentyele, arrerlkeme, which was from the 2018 Mt Gillen display, and Grounded Space, also from the 2018 show. This song is a great summary of the artworks displayed during the festival so I highly recommend that you give this one a listen.

You may be wondering why I love this festival so much. I mean, it’s just a bunch of lights, right? No. It’s a celebration of where I was born and the land that I exist on. It is a celebration of the ancient history of this land that evidence suggests was settled by Aboriginal people at least 30,000 years ago. It is a celebration of this of this magical place that is Mparntwe. Before European settlement in the area, Mparntwe (Alice Springs) was a significant location as it is where a number of song lines crossed and is home to over 600 sacred sites.

For more information on the spiritual significance of the region read Sacred sites: Alice Springs Aboriginal elder leads tours in bid for better understanding and Comprehensive mapping of Aboriginal sacred sites completed in Alice Springs, NBN on the way

Sadly, not many people are aware of the spiritual and cultural significance of this area, and I think this really needs to change. And I’m aware that I’m just a white girl and it is so easy to dismiss what I am saying as some sort of saviour complex, but it’s not. This is my home. This is where I have grown up. I feel such a strong connection to this place. When I look out at the red rock ranges of this area I sometimes feel my heart clench at the beauty and magnificence of this place; and when I fly back home after being away I feel it in my tummy. The butterflies erupt and I feel an overwhelming sense of home.

Read Red Centre Bucket List: Climb Mt Gillen

A caterpillar at the Parrtjima Lights Festival Alice Springs
This was one of the 2018 exhibits displayed down the Todd Mall

There are many negative views of the Alice, and sadly, not all of them are unjustified, but that shouldn’t overshadow the magnificence of this place, both its geography, its culture and spirituality, and its beauty. The Parritjima Festival showcases this area in such an amazing and creative way. This is why I love this festival.

So next time you’re thinking about exploring the Red Centre, try and line it up with this amazing festival, and try and see Central Australia through my eyes.

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