From Cairns to the Cape, you’ll find an annual program of Indigenous events that bring to life a culture 60,000 years in the making. Your ticket not only grants you entry, but a backstage pass to the stories and traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation.
Considering Tropical North Queensland is the only place in the world where both of Australia’s ancient Indigenous cultures meet – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander – there’s good cause for celebration all year round.
What are you waiting for? Start blocking out annual leave days to experience one of these unmissable Indigenous events in Tropical North Queensland.
Cooktown Discovery Festival
Set on the meeting ground of Indigenous and European cultures back in 1770, the Cooktown Discovery Festival shares its settlement story through music, dance and food.
The festival celebrates Cooktown’s blend of Indigenous and non-indigenous stories, with a program that focuses on both culture’s shared history over the last 250 years.
Dates: 2023 dates TBC
Location: Cooktown, various locations
Cairns Indigenous Art Fair
Art buff or not, time your visit to Tropical North Queensland with the annual Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF), which brings together Indigenous artists and their works for five days of cultural connection.
Celebrating the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures through colours, designs and artforms (from paintings to pottery and dance to song), the headline event within is the Art Fair, which will be held in the Cairns Convention Centre.
Each year, CIAF attracts high-level collectors and curators, providing a platform for Indigenous artists to reach new audiences and sell their wares, earning its place as one of the most iconic Indigenous experiences in the Cairns calendar.
Date: 13 – 16 July 2023
Location: Cairns, various locations
Gimuy Fish Festival
Taking over Fogarty Park in central Cairns, the Gimuy Fish Festival is a cultural celebration with a cause. Beneath the dancing, music and free food to fuel the party atmosphere, the event aims to encourage sustainable fishing practices and better inform consumer choices.
The event does this subtly through its program, which includes a popular cook-off where local restaurants go head-to-head, dishing up over 200 free meals in the hope of snaring the coveted title of Gimuy’s Top Chef.
When you’re not indulging in cuisine, catch the Yidinji dancers in action or wander the market stalls, which celebrate Indigenous culture, the environment and the seafood industry.
Date: 6 August 2022
Location: Fogarty Park, Cairns
Laura Quinkan Dance Festival
Feel the ground shake, see the dust fly and move to the rhythm at Queensland’s longest-running Indigenous event, Laura Quinkan Dance Festival.
The atmosphere of this dance festival is the stuff of goosebumps, with Laura attracting up to 1,000 performers from 20 different Aboriginal communities for three days of cultural celebration.
Every second year, Laura’s stage is set for this dance party, which combines dance with art and Indigenous workshops for festival goers to roll up their sleeves for a hands-on experience.
The location of this festival is no coincidence – for centuries, Laura has been a central meeting place for the Cape’s Indigenous population and home to some of the most well-preserved and oldest rock art on the planet.
When you’re not moving to the music, visit some of the nearby Quinkan Rock Art galleries, touted by UNESCO as one of the top 10 rock art sites in the world.
Date: 7 – 9 July 2023
Location: Laura, Cape York
Yarrabah Music and Cultural Festival
For the ultimate musical microcosm of ‘how it started vs how it’s going’, pay a visit to the Yarrabah Music and Cultural Festival.
Harking back to 1901 when people gathered to hear the Yarrabah Brass Band, the community of Yarrabah, just east of Cairns, now plays host to a full day of music, arts and food to celebrate local talent, who perform alongside national music acts.
Besides good tunes you can expect hands-on demonstrations like spear making, shield making and weaving across the multiple stages.
Date: Postponed to 2023
Keep the Flame of Culture Burning
Keep the Flame of Culture Burning is not a static festival. Much like the culture it celebrates, even the event itself is nomadic.
Unlike other events in this list, this festival progresses through the five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities of Injinoo, Umagico, Seisia, New Mapoon and Bamaga. To symbolise what this cultural festival stands for – peace, unity and the flame of culture – a carved torch is lit and travels to each of the communities throughout the festival dates, finishing in Bamaga for the main celebration.
Across its five locations, an action-packed program of traditional carving workshops, art exhibitions, cultural walkabouts and local tours keeps this four-day festival pacey.
Date: 2023 dates TBC
Location: Injinoo, Umagico, Seisia, New Mapoon and Bamaga
Ruchook Cultural Festival
Every second year, the community of Napranum on the west coast of Cape York hosts a celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, and everyone’s invited.
You can expect two days packed with music, dance and art, with intimate workshops that encourage participation.
Rather than merely spectate, this is a chance to immerse yourself in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture in a town whose name literally translates to ‘meeting place of people’.