September in Australia’s Red Centre: Spring has sprung, the days are still cool (but getting warmer), the colours of Uluru are at their most vivid, and, if you’re lucky, the wildflowers might even put on a beautiful show.
There are many reasons why Spring is the ideal time to visit Alice Springs and the arid heart of this brutal, beautiful country. Many of them involve getting out in the great outdoors, enjoying nature and exploring iconic natural attractions such as Uluru and Kata Tjuta.
But there are other uniquely Australian experiences to be had in this neck of the woods at this lovely time of year.
Here are three of the best festivals in the Alice, starting in September – plus a couple in the magnificent Top End:
Central Australia's premier annual multi-arts festival is a celebration of the desert, its people and its rich cultural landscape.
Set in the beautiful surrounds of Alice Springs, the Alice Desert Festival is characterised by a diverse programme that features everything from music, dance, theatre, visual arts and comedy, to circus, film, cabaret, vaudeville, the spoken word, workshops and more.
Most importantly, the Festival celebrates the exchange between cultures. It finds the most intriguing artists, dancers and musicians from some of the most remote Aboriginal communities in the land, and puts them alongside some of the best contemporary acts in Australia. The result is electrifying.
This year, a festival highlight will be performances of Bilarni – the story of WE (Bill) Harney, considered by many to be Australia's greatest ever yarn-spinner. A bushman who returned from WW1 to live amongst Aboriginal people, he ultimately became the first Ranger at Uluru, where he was known as the ‘Custodian of the Rock’. Bilarni is written and performed by Jan 'Yarn' Wositzky, famous for founding The Bushwackers Band back in 1971. Learn more about the Alice Desert Festival here.
This spectacular light festival paints the 300-million-year-old MacDonnell Ranges and surrounding desert in a riot of colours and patterns. Using cutting-edge technology, the 10-day event turns the natural landscape into a breathtaking outdoor gallery, highlighting artworks from contemporary Aboriginal artists via an interactive canvas and light show.
Hailed as the first authentic Aboriginal festival of its kind, Parrtjima (which means “shedding both light and understanding on a subject” in the local Arrernte languages), showcases the oldest continuous culture on earth on an epic and unforgettable scale. Click here to learn more.
“What a Wonderful World! – celebrating global heritage” is the theme for this year’s Desert Song Festival, a 10-day musical extravaganza in the Red Centre, celebrating the singer, the song, the instrument, the land and its people.
It’s the perfect name, as this year the festival will feature musical traditions from not only Central Australia, but also India, Africa and the Americas. Visitors will experience something truly special, with choirs, vocal ensembles, musicians and solo artists performing in unforgettable settings ranging from heritage venues in Alice Springs to the Tjoritja/West MacDonnell Ranges.
As well as concerts, there are workshops and masterclasses, plus a screening of the documentary “The Song Keepers”, a story about the Central Aboriginal Women’s Choir. Click here to learn more.
If you’ve ever dreamed of visiting Kakadu, this three-day event will give you even more inspiration to visit Australia’s largest and most famous national park. At the Mayali Mulil Festival, members of the Murumburr clan are offering a genuine cultural experience at Kakadu Billabong Safari Camp, on the banks of a billabong complex along Jim Jim Creek.
By sharing their culture and traditions they’ll help visitors connect to the land and its traditional owners – everything from bushwalks, spear-throwing competitions and didjeridoo workshops to fishing, storytelling and traditional dancing corroborees can be enjoyed. Concerts, cultural food stalls and bush-tucker experiences, and camping and safari accommodation round off this incredible Kakadu event. Click here to learn more.
Walk the red carpet in Darwin in September, when the International Film Festival comes to town. The 10-day movie-fest features around 40 fab flicks, plus workshops and exhibitions. Movies showcase the best of Northern Australia and Northern Territory film, Indigenous stories and film makers, plus films from around the world. A visit to the Deckchair Cinema is another must for cinephiles – it’s the world’s most retro outdoor cinema, where you sit on a canvas chair under the stars while watching the stars on screen. Click here to learn more.