As the warm glow of the afternoon sun shone through the gum trees, lighting up the dust and ceremonial smoke swirling through the air, the deep rumble of didgeridoos and rhythmic sound of clap sticks transported spectators on a spiritual journey back in time.
Seated around the Bunaan Ring, people stared in transfixed silence as they watched dancers painted in ochre, raising their spears, clapping sticks and tools in ceremonial dance.
Traditional dance played an integral part at Giiyong Festival, the largest multi-arts Aboriginal festival in the Yuin Nation, hosted at Jigamy north of Eden on Saturday, November 18.
Giiyong Festival dance coordinator Ashweeni Mason said the energy brought about by the dance presentations on the day, both from the dancers and audiences, had blown her away.
"I mean you can see everyone being so pumped and happy, the energy is just so high and really powerful," she said.
The festival was kicked off with a traditional Dhawa welcome to country dance performed by the Duurunu Miru dancers.
One by one the dancers emerged in their ochre painted outfits, lining up behind the founder of the group Shaquille Aldridge.
With a powerful call Shaquille led the dancers forward, as they slowly began to circle the front of the stage in ceremonial dance.
Performed on the main stage at Giiyong on the shores of Pambula Lake, the dancers ranged in ages, with some of the littlest holding hands of the adults as they danced.
Local Yuin man Nathan Lygon held the space with his performance that accompanied the dancers. Nathan not only sang in the Dhawa language, but also used traditional clapping sticks and played the didgeridoo for certain dances.
In the lead up to organising the festival, Ashweeni worked closely with Shaquille, in order to put together a solid dance program for the festival.
"We had the Gumaraa, Djaadjawan, Gadhu, Duurunu Miru dancers, as well as the Eden Students dance group perform. Shaq and I had reached out to them in the lead up to it and asked if they'd perform and they all accepted," she said.
Later on, with the setting sun, people began to gather at the Aunty Tina Bobbins Ganya stage located within the Bunaan Ring in preparation for the Dhilwaan Yarrkural (the nightfall dance) - Giiyong's most anticipated event.
Four of the dance groups along with dancers from the Eden Students Dance Group came together for this performance.
Dancers of all ages came together in their different costumes, with the women performing some of their traditional dances and the men theirs - and then all coming together for the main ceremonial dances.
Ashweeni said she had been delighted to see how big the Dhilwaan Yarrkural had become, with more young dancers joining this year.
"Because we've been that example in showing our dances, our kids want to be a part of it and that's what we've always wanted," she said.
"We get a lot of kids coming up asking to dance and so we show them how and get them dressed up in the costumes and they love it, which is a really good sign and its great to see them getting more involved," she said.
Ashweeni said events like Giiyong were meaningful, with long-lasting positive effects on community, especially in regards to the younger generations.
"I think it's really important to have dance ceremonies like this, for our kids to see us practising our culture and learn from us," she said.
"It's also important for our non-Indigenous people, where they can feel that they're a part of it too by watching us and then we all come together as one."
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