Your guide to Parrtjima: A Festival in Light

Don't miss this magical event celebrating Indigenous arts and culture against the backdrop of Alice Springs and the MacDonnell Ranges.

Parrtjima Festival comes to life after dark.
  • Sarah Geelan
  • March 2019

Parrtjima: A Festival in Light is an annual event that brings together Indigenous artists from different communities in Central Australia and provides a space to share their rich culture with the rest of the world. Instead of a gallery, though, the artists use the land to tell their stories through art, dance, music, storytelling and installations. The 2019 edition of the free festival opens in new window will run from 5-14 April with the theme of “Language Expressions”.

Renowned Indigenous creative director and producer Rhoda Roberts curates the program for the free public event, working closely with local Aboriginal artists, reference groups and the team behind events such as Vivid Sydney.

“It’s essentially an open-air gallery of light installations featuring diverse works and styles,” Rhoda says. “It’s a truly magical experience.”

The artworks merge with the surrounding desert landscape
The artworks merge with the surrounding desert landscape.

A growing number of travellers are seeking holidays that give them the “local treatment”, according to online booking company TrekkSoft. And as more people choose cultural experiences as their main reason for travel, this annual festival becomes the perfect destination for those wanting to soak up the Aboriginal culture.

Parrtjima (pronounced par-chee-ma) is incredibly sensory – from the feel of the silky red sand and the sight of the illuminated landscape, to the sound of children playing in the festival hub space. Everything is carefully designed to preserve the sacred nature of Indigenous culture, history and Dreamtime stories – right down to which parts of the MacDonnell Ranges are bathed in light.

The festival offers a unique insight into the Indigenous culture in an accessible manner
The festival offers a unique insight into the Indigenous culture in an accessible manner.

While the event is a great platform for the local artists and designed to make their stories accessible to everyone, it’s the visitors, whose numbers totalled more than 20,000 in 2018, who gain the most. They can talk to the artists and local elders, who are keen to share the Arrernte culture, and interact with installations such as Grounded Space – a patch of red earth in the heart of the festival hub that’s ideal for quiet contemplation among the light installations.

Parrtjima festival is the largest platform of its kind for Indigenous artists from the region
Parrtjima festival is the largest platform of its kind for Indigenous artists from the region.

Now in its fourth iteration, this year’s event will deliver one of the most expansive programs yet, although the focus is on preserving native languages and the importance of Australian Indigenous languages as the ultimate storytelling tool, with the chance to hear stories 60,000 years in the making.

“It seeks to shine a light on the beauty and complexities of Central Australia’s vast network of Indigenous languages,” Rhoda says. “In line with the UN International Year of Indigenous Languages, there is no better time to reflect on, understand more about and truly celebrate the languages that make our country unique.”

Many of the interactive artworks are great for families
Many of the interactive artworks are great for families.

To be able to stand in the presence of such ancient stories and history, surrounded by the vast landscape of the Northern Territory, will truly change your perception of Australia.