Australia’s most northern and only tropical arts festival was born out of the destruction and devastation of a natural disaster over 40 years ago. Cyclone Tracy tore through the Northern Territory’s capital city on Christmas Eve in 1974 leaving behind 68 dead and 25,000 Darwin residents homeless. There was talk from some of abandoning the city site altogether but others were more determined to rebuild.
In 1977, Northern Territory director of health Dr Charles Gurd suggested celebrating the town’s revival with a Festival that would draw the community together and reflect the optimism of those who had returned to rebuild.
Staged in July 1979, the Bougainvillea Festival, held on the first anniversary of the granting of self-government for NT, was essentially a floral festival to promote the beautification of the city. Evidence of that first Festival can still be seen in the form of a water pipe running along the Stuart Highway that was decorated by 900 school children.
The early years of the Festival featured such events as the Bougainvillea Queen of Quests competition, Home Garden contests, the Grand Parade; a floral procession with floats and decorated bikes, sporting events, a billy-cart derby, birdman rally and a Mardi Gras concert featuring local and visiting performers.
In the 1990s the Festival shifted its focus toward community arts, celebrating multicultural aspects of the unique Darwin lifestyle, with a vision of becoming a cultural focus for the region. Artists were recruited to work with community organisations and schools to invigorate the Grand Parade and Indigenous communities and Asia Pacific cultural groups were encouraged to have greater participation. In 1996 Darwin’s annual celebration became known as the Festival of Darwin.
In 2003 under the direction of newly appointed Artistic Director Malcolm Blaylock, the Festival was renamed to reflect its international status in the arts. Darwin Festival is a vibrant arts and cultural event with an eclectic and substantial program that takes advantage of Darwin’s delightful dry season weather and spectacular outdoor venues. Darwin Festival reflects Darwin’s position at the Top End of Australia, its unique Indigenous and multicultural population and its close proximity to Asia while at the same time showcasing some of Australia’s finest arts performers.
Darwin Festival is held over an exciting 18 days and nights, with local and touring performances and events including outdoor concerts, workshops, theatre, dance music, comedy and cabaret, film and visual arts. During the Festival, Darwin buzzes with performers, artists, locals and visitors enjoying the vibrant and colourful atmosphere and festivities of Darwin Festival.