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2019 Darwin Festival Reveals 40th Anniversary Program

June 24, 2019 Events / Whats On No Comments Email Email

Get set to celebrate 18 hot August nights when Australia’s hottest winter arts festival returns (Thursday 8 – Sunday 25 August) for its 40thanniversary year. Enjoy warm tropical nights at Darwin Festival with the very best in local, national and international performances. A packed program of events will deliver exciting cabaret, theatre, comedy, dance, visual arts, outdoor music concerts and family fun for everyone.

Highlights of the 2019 anniversary season include:

  • celebrated Indigenous rockers Yothu Yindi,
  • funny-man Nazeem Hussain
  • Iranian hand drummer Mohammad Reza Mortazavi
  • international cabaret chanteuse extraordinaire Meow Meow
  • iconic Australian singer-songwriter Archie Roach,
  • performer and choreographer Jacob Boehme’s personal and passionate dance theatre work Blood on the Dance Floor
  • a challenging look at youth incarceration with Declan Furber Gillick’s Bighouse Dreaming
  • And a night of musical tribute to Quentin Tarantino’s ’90s cult classic Pulp Fiction in Parap Fiction.

Darwin Festival Artistic Director Felix Preval says, “To celebrate 40 years of Darwin Festival, we’ve pulled together a wonderfully diverse program, jam-packed with eclectic and electric events. There will be mass celebrations of community and resilience and award-winning comedians providing laugh-a-minute commentary. We’ll also see timely pieces of work examining the experience of First Nations peoples, and late-night parties designed to get you dancing, This year’s Darwin Festival program offers the opportunity for us to come together and discover something new and unique across 18 tropical days and nights.

“40 years since our origin as the Bougainvillea Festival is a huge milestone, so we’re promising Darwin one hell of a party! Our Festival program features 114 events, 596 artists and counting, 287 currently of whom are NT locals, and is spread across 33 venues. So whether you’re a local looking for some dry season fun, or an out-of-towner seeking an escape from the winter chills, we’re looking forward to hosting you for the momentous 2019 Darwin Festival.”

Darwin Festival CEO Emily Mann says, “Darwin Festival is the Northern Territory’s best-kept secret. Festivals drive tourism and stimulate local economies in cities around the world, and Darwin is no exception.

“This year we are increasing promotion of our mid-winter tropical Festival to Australian and international audiences to grow tourism visitation in 2019 and beyond.

“We are grateful for the support of the Northern Territory Government with the announcement of $2 million in consolidated funding in 2019 and 2020 that enables us to assist the NTG in achieving tourism visitation targets for the Territory.”

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Culture, Lauren Moss MLA says, “The Territory Government is putting significant investment into the Territory’s unique events and festivals, recognising their role in attracting more visitors here and supporting vibrant, liveable communities.

“This year, the Government is contributing a record $2 million to the Darwin Festival as the premier celebration of our arts, culture and lifestyle, supporting the event to grow, particularly in terms of attendance from interstate.

“The Territory does events and festivals like nowhere else. The iconic Darwin Festival is our pinnacle event and the perfect reason for people to escape the southern winter.

“We are investing in growing our events and festivals calendar as part of our broader Turbocharging Tourism efforts, because we know they are a great drawcard for visitors looking for new and exciting experiences, creating jobs and generating business for our accommodation, hospitality and tour operators.

“Our $62.8 million TURBO2 investment includes an extra $20 million over the next two years to support our festivals, major events and experiences. We are already seeing this investment pay off with our holiday visitor numbers and spending starting to trend upwards after a tough period.

“This year’s Darwin Festival is set to be another incredible 18 days of dry season fun and entertainment for locals and visitors.”

Darwin Festival is the Northern Territory’s leading international arts festival that connects the cultures and communities of Darwin through the arts, promotes the Northern Territory to the nation and the world, and contributes to the cultural and visitor economies of Northern Australia.

Held each August, it combines warm outdoor festivities with a program rich with local, national and international talent over 18 dazzling nights.

Tickets for the Darwin Festival are on sale from 10am Friday 21 June at

Darwin Festival is proudly supported by the Northern Territory Government and City of Darwin.


From its grassroots beginning as the Bougainvillea Festival 40 years ago to a thriving international arts festival today, this year’s program features an ode to the colourful history of the Top End’s much-loved Festival.

In 1979 Darwin Festival emerged out of the destruction of Cyclone Tracy. In 2019, Darwin Festival is crafting musical instruments out of the iconic African mahogany trees planted post-Tracy and felled by Cyclone Marcus in March 2018. The event, Drumming Up the Storm, is a mass log drumming spectacular starring 40 drummers performing on 40 log drums in a celebration of community spirit, cultural collaboration and resilience.Drumming Up the Storm takes place in Festival Park on Saturday 24 August.

In Festival Park, audiences are invited to step back in time with Parade Days, a video installation by local artist Huni Bolliger depicting images gathered from local archives and the community. Parade Days celebrates the Bougainvillea Festival’s Grand Parade – a highlight event of the Festival’s early years. Parade Days will screen nightly in Festival Park.

From the early history of Aboriginal corroboree to community gatherings, from the Bougainvillea Festival to Barunga Festival and everything in between, It’s Festival Season sees Darwin Festival Artistic Director Felix Preval, Northern Territory Library Heritage Coordinator Dr Samantha Wells and others traverse the exciting, diverse and sometimes controversial history of festivals in the Northern Territory. Catch this engaging discussion at the Northern Territory Library on Wednesday 14 August.


Anniversary celebrations kick off with the Santos Opening Night Concert on Thursday 8 August at The Amphitheatre. Celebrate the start of the Festival with a fusion of traditional music and contemporary rock, with the internationally acclaimed Yothu Yindi. Supporting will be Darwin favouriteCaiti Baker and the feel-good grooves of Adrian Eagles. The event is a fun night out for the whole family, a must on the dry season free events calendar!

Australian indie rock faves Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever are heading to Darwin bringing with them their thrilling and wistful melancholic rock, eliciting warm memories of the golden age of Aussie guitar bands. Don’t miss their trademark infectious tunes and poetic lyrics at The Lighthouse onSaturday 10 August.

Following their heart-stopping collaborations via #1 Dads and record-breaking performances, Tom Snowdon and Tom Iansek return as No Mono. With a fresh take on emotive electronica, full of melodies built on mountainous synthesisers and buzzing drums, this is a night of epic entertainment at The Lighthouse on Thursday 15 August.

An exciting emerging force from a remote coastal community on the Gulf of Carpentaria, Mambali sing in language about country, culture and the Dhumbul (Devil) Dance. With edge and energy, they fuse their traditional cultural songs and rhythms with contemporary sounds and beats. This pulsating performance takes place at The Lighthouse on Friday 16 August.

Iranian musician Mohammad Reza Mortazavi is the world’s best hand drummer. Playing traditional Persian hand drums in his own unique way, he crafts a network of intricate rhythms, up-tempo beats and trance-like textures with incredible virtuosity. Catch this solo performance of orchestral proportions at The Lighthouse on Wednesday 21 August.

Pull on the suit and thin tie, bring out the black bob and get ready to twist the night away as Darwin Festival pays tribute to Tarantino’s ’90s cult classic Pulp FictionParap Fiction will have fans reliving their favourite scenes live and on the silver screen with the timeless soundtrack brought to life by local legends and Festival guests including Geraldine Quinn, Stevie Jean, Natalie Pellegrino, David Spry and a whole lot more. Parap Fiction blows into The Lighthouse on Friday 23 August.

Two First Nations performers come together to share their cultures and inspiration in a special musical collaboration. Leela Gilday’s rich vocals dance across the rhythmic beats of traditional Dene drumming with songs of love and life in the rugged environment and vibrant culture of her home in Canada’s north. For this year’s Festival she’s collaborating with proud Australian Indigenous performer Emily Wurramara for a musical evening to savour at The Lighthouse in Sunday 18 August.

Over at the Darwin Railway Club, the Festival’s musical journey continues to wow with a selection of top interstate and international headliners supported by some of the finest Territory talent. Artists include the captivating Tek Tek, with support from ’80s-obsessed Panic Bruss; the mesmerising stylings of Greta Stanley, supported by the enchanting Serina Pech; the haunting and high energy of MANE, supported by soul starStevie Jean; and Brisbane’s awkwardly transcendent The Goon Sax, supported by local blues rocker Ben Evolent.

Neil Murray and Sammy Butcher, founding members of the Warumpi Band, are launching a brand-new album at this year’s Festival following a two-decade hiatus. Midnight Oil’s Jim Moginie and drummer Bill Heckenberg are also on board for this unique celebration – all in one, joined together.

There ain’t no party like an after-party and the only place to be to keep those good vibes rollin’ till morning is the Festival’s after-hours venue, Club Awi. The club will present an eclectic mix of DJs and special performers every Friday and Saturday night throughout the Festival.

The biggest celebration of Australian First Nations music, the National Indigenous Music Awards (NIMAs) returns on Saturday 10 August atThe Amphitheatre. Presented by MusicNT, the NIMAs will feature artists including Jessica MauboyDan SultanElectric FieldsDeborah CheethamEric Avery and more for a family friendly night of stellar sounds under the stars.


In a troubled regional town, young Aboriginal defendant Chris’ rap aspirations compete for time with his court appearances and meetings with lawyers, psychologists and social workers. Combining the rhythm and cultural force of hip hop with theatre, Bighouse Dreaming is a provocative and urgent performance that holds an unflinching lens to the justice system, youth prisons and Australian masculinity – black and white. A Declan Furber Gillick YarnBighouse Dreaming runs at Brown’s Mart Theatre Friday 16 – Sunday 18 August.

The contradictions of modern India, with its iPhones and ancient gods, come alive in the outrageously funny and heartbreakingly beautiful productionGuru of Chai. Channelling 17 characters and leaping to multiple locations to deliver a romantic thriller filled with dubious spiritual wisdom, this buck-toothed Guru promises a night of laughter, heartbreak and enlightenment at Darwin Entertainment CentreThursday 22 – Sunday 25 August.

LOVE+ is a one-woman two-hander about loving, being loved, being human, and whether those things are intertwined. Created by MALAPROP Theatre, one of Ireland’s most exciting collectives, LOVE+ provides a snapshot of a domestic life featuring sex robots and unrequited love. Catch it atHappy YessFriday 23 – Sunday 25 August.

In My Urrwai, comic and dancer Ghenoa Gela invites the audience to explore her life, family and cultural identity as a Torres Strait Islander woman. This autobiographical show with a killer sense of humour is a celebration of cultural and familial inheritance and an unflinching commentary on race relations in Australia. My Urrwai takes place at Brown’s Mart TheatreFriday 9 – Sunday 11 August.


For some family fun, Air Race is an action-packed adventure inspired by the amazing true story of the 1919 Air Race from London to Darwin. With incredible moving sets and live music, Air Race is theatre for young people, made all the more poignant by this year’s centenary anniversary of the race ending on Darwin shores. Air Race flies into the Darwin Entertainment CentreFriday 16 and Saturday 17 August.

Combining puppetry, Live action, animation and a beautiful original soundtrack, New Owner tells a heartbreakingly joyful story of profound friendship through the eyes of a lost dog. Full of magical moments and inventive stagecraft, this comic tale of loss, friendship and new beginnings is the perfect show for anyone who has ever loved a pet. New Owner comes to Brown’s Mart TheatreThursday 22 – Sunday 25 August.

Two family favourites return to Darwin Festival in 2019. If you go down to The Esplanade, you’re sure of a big surprise… On Sunday 11 Augustthe much-loved City of Darwin Teddy Bears’ Picnic is back for a morning of free performances, activities and delicious food. Put those dancing shoes on Teddy because Team Fun will lead a kids’ takeover of The Victoria Spiegeltent for a Big Ted birthday bash disco party!

At emBARK!, youngsters get the run of Festival Park for three nights of artistic adventures. This annual mini festival for mini humans is jam-packed with roving performances, interactive activities and hands-on sessions of learning and play. Head to Festival Park, Tuesday 20 – Thursday 22 August to join in the fun!


Darwin loves a good laugh, so the Festival has come prepared with a truly stellar line-up of very best comedians. She’s an effervescent bundle of laughs with questions about everything – Cal Wilson is coming to Darwin armed with a plethora of queries about Brussel sprouts, ambulances and everything in between. Catch Cal’s show Gifted Underachiever at The Lighthouse on Wednesday 14 August.

Nazeem Hussain has had a massive year: he became a dad, his sketch show, Orange Is The New Brown, began airing on Channel 7, he recorded his first Netflix special and to top it all off, he’s headed to Darwin Festival to joke about these things and more in his new show Basic Idiot. Don’t miss this night of witty, cutting and confronting comedy at The LighthouseFriday 9 and Saturday 10 August.

Local lady of laughs Amy Hetherington is set to share her precarious balance of infectious optimism and tales of Darwin’s total insanity in the award-winning Where They Hide The Crazy. This hilarious look at the very best and worst of Territory life takes place at Happy Yess, Tuesday 13 – Thursday 15 August.

After sold-out shows at Melbourne International Comedy Festival, two of Australia’s funniest First Nationers are bringing solid comedy gold to Darwin. As seen on Have You Been Paying Attention? and ABC Comedy’s Up Late, Dane Simpson with his hilarious dad jokes joins glorious cynic Matt Ford inAborigi-LOL. This award-winning duo are putting the ‘rad’ in traditional at The Lighthouse on Sunday 18 August.


The masterminds behind Darwin Festival 2017’s sell-out success Blanc de Blanc are back with a brand-new show. Head to the all-new Victoria Spiegeltent for a glitzy and glamorous party of Gatsby-esque proportions. From aerial acrobatics to captivating cabaret and burlesque, Blanc de Blanc: Encore promises a sexy champagne-soaked world filled with big moves, great tunes and more than a few surprises. Blanc de Blanc Encorewill run for 22 performances across the Festival, Thursday 8 – Sunday 25 August.

Post-post-modern diva Meow Meow has hypnotised, inspired and terrified audiences globally. The spectacular crowd-surfing queen of song comes to the Festival for an unforgettable evening of exquisite music and much mayhem. Prepare for Piazzolla tangos, Weill, Brecht, Brel, even Radiohead alongside original chansons as she showcases her glorious brand of subversive and sublime performance at The LighthouseWednesday 14 and Thursday 15 August.

Expect the unexpected in a dazzling new show that is equal parts outrageous and avant-garde with YUMMY. An ever-fabulous ensemble of some of the best cabaret, drag and burlesque artists in the world will take audiences on a delicious and unpredictable ride in this stunning Darwin debut.YUMMY sashays into The LighthouseFriday 16 and Saturday 17 August.

Pour a drink, ditch the leash and revel in a new work by psycho-siren Leah Shelton, directed by UK performance art provocateur Ursula Martinez.Bitch on Heat is a decadent banquet of lethal lip-synch, dark comedy and anti-burlesque.  Run, don’t walk, to this pop-fuelled critique of sexual politics in the age of implied consent. Bitch on Heat is on at Happy Yess, Friday 9 – Sunday 11 August.


Experience a very different circus show when Cambodia’s premier troupe Phare Circus present their award-winning EclipseBased on traditional Cambodian folktales, Eclipse combines a dramatic mix of theatre, classical Cambodian Apsara dance and thrilling acrobatics all set to a live original music score. Eclipse takes place at the Darwin Entertainment CentreFriday 9 – Sunday 11 August.

NEON is an unapologetic, hilarious and downright dirty dancing cabaret, where circus meets comedy and song. Join Australia’s iconic Circus Ozunder neon lights as they celebrate everything trashy, glitzy and fabulously tragic about the 1980s. It’s a jam-packed hour of non-stop energy that dazzles with stunning acrobatic acts, breathtaking feats of circus, plus a smattering of Flashdance choreography in some rather uncomfortable gym wear. Enjoy a naughty night out at The Lighthouse, Friday 23 – Sunday 25 August

Puzzle invites audiences to join in a playful game in unexpected locations around Darwin. Five talented circus performers tumble, balance, handstand and form human pyramids to stack four hollow cubes in all sorts of permutations and combinations. Performed by Formosa Circus ArtPuzzle brings together Eastern traditional acrobatics, juggling, dance, drama and street theatre for a unique contemporary circus experience that’s fun for everyone.Puzzle takes place at various locations from Friday 16 – Sunday 18 August.


A choreographer, dancer and writer from the Narangga and Kaurna nations of South Australia, Jacob Boehme was diagnosed with HIV in 1998. In search of answers, he reached out to his ancestors. Through a powerful blend of storytelling, projection and movement, he pays homage to their ceremonies whilst dissecting the politics of gay, Blak and poz identities in Blood on a Dance Floor. This moving work is an unapologetic, passionate and visceral narrative exploring the legacies and memories of bloodlines, the need for community and what blood means to each of us. See Blood on the Dance Floor at Brown’s Mart Theatre, Tuesday 13 – Thursday 15 August.

Bangarra Dance Theatre is celebrating its 30th anniversary with Bangarra: 30 years of sixty five thousand, a diverse program of three contemporary works each displaying Bangarra’s trademark passionate storytelling, rich artistry and deep community connections. Catch these masters of movement at the Darwin Entertainment CentreSaturday 17 August.

The Perception Experiment aims to challenge the way audiences experience a live dance performance. Alice Springs-based choreographers Frankie Snowdon and Madeleine Krenek explore time and space as they combine elements of dance, sound and salt in a sensorial and immersive performance inspired by and created in the Australian desert. Don’t miss this show at Brown’s Mart TheatreTuesday 20 and Wednesday 21 August.

A highlight of the dance program each year, local company Tracks Dance returns with a new show that transforms the heart of Darwin into an outdoor stage. Whimsical yet thought-provoking, Global Positioning explores the Darwin city across time. Musical Director James Mangohig collaborates with local musicians to produce a richly textured sound score, while six Darwin choreographers lead a large community cast, creating movement and taking audiences on a journey that reimagines the city and its place in the world. See Global Positioning at the Smith Street Mall, Sunday 18 – Monday 19 and Thursday 22 – Saturday 24 August.


This year, Darwin Festival presents two powerful and captivating films that use the thrilling energy of sport to tell very human stories. Looking into the rites and rituals of a rural New Zealand rugby club, The Ground We Won is a cinema vérité documentary study of manhood, mateship, obligations and belonging, both on the pitch and off. Catch the screening at Deckchair Cinema on Monday 12 August.

Indian Horse follows the life of a Canadian First Nations boy as he survives an oppressive residential school, and life in the face of aggressive assimilation policies and racism. A talented ice hockey player, Saul must find his own path as he battles stereotypes and alcoholism. No matter how good he is at ice hockey, he’ll always be seen as second class because of his Indigenous heritage. Don’t miss it at Deckchair Cinema on Monday 19 August


It’s the year for significant birthdays with Darwin Symphony Orchestra getting festive for their 30th Anniversary Gala. A program of three very different compositions feature in this musical night to remember, including Sibelius’ rousing Finlandia followed by a world premiere from celebrated Australian composer Lachlan Skipworth commissioned especially for the 30th anniversary and designed to reflect the spirit of the Territory. This special triple bill takes place at the Darwin Convention CentreSaturday 24 August.

Filled with gorgeous music, Opera Australia is back in Darwin, this time transporting audiences to the exotic sights and sounds of Japan with Puccini’s famous opera Madama Butterfly. One of Australia’s greatest theatrical minds, John Bell, directs this production performed by Opera Australia’s magnificent cast accompanied by a chamber orchestra and supported by a children’s chorus drawn from local communities. See it at theDarwin Entertainment Centre, Friday 9 and Saturday 10 August.


One that’s sure to have the whole Territory talking is StoryProjects Birds Eye View: Prison Stories. Take an audio journey beyond the stereotypes and razor wire to the muster yard, where women from the Darwin Correctional Centre reflect on their lives before, during and after prison. Walk with them as they loop the loop through poetry, love, betrayal and their prison home. Part walking tour, part audio essay, this immersive listening experience collapses the walls between insiders and out, giving a rare and intimate view of life behind bars. Birds Eye View: Prison Stories takes place at Fannie Bay Gaol, Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 August.

A favourite of the Festival, SPUN returns with another evening of stories drawn from real life in the Northern Territory. Teaming up with Carers NT,SPUN: ENTWINED brings you six entwined stories about those among us who look after others – children, grannies, parents, siblings and even the next-door neighbour. This event is an early sell-out each year, check it out on Tuesday 20 August at The Lighthouse.

Charles Darwin University delivers an inspiring afternoon of provocative questions and stimulating ideas with Sunday at CDU on Sunday 18 AugustThis year the talks take inspiration from the UN observed Year of Indigenous Languages to curate a series of inspiring sessions that look at what is, can and should be done to keep this important aspect of Indigenous culture alive through three engaging panels. The day’s discussions start with a performance by the stunning Tiwi Strong Women’s Choir.


Across the Festival opening weekend, the much-loved Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair celebrates its 13th year with art from more than 70 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community art centres, and an exciting program of traditional dance, workshops, film, music and the Fair’s fashion showFrom Country to Couture. This year, Melbourne fashion label Gorman has collaborated with Mangkaja Arts Collection to showcase 40 looks featuring the artwork of artists from Fitzroy Crossing in Western Australia.

For over 17 years Behind the Wire has provided Northern Territory prisoners with an opportunity to exhibit their works of art to the public. Be awed by the amazing depth and creativity of their works from Saturday 10 – Sunday 25 August at Fannie Bay Gaol. 

Australia’s most prestigious national Indigenous art awards is back for the 36th year. The Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (Telstra NATSIAA) celebrate the extraordinary artists from diverse geographic regions across the country, and bring an important Indigenous voice to the political, social and cultural dialogue in Australia. Engage in the wonderful works of up and coming artists and enjoy the major works of Australia’s most revered artists.  This year’s awards ceremony and opening night on Friday 9 August will be filled with incredible live performances, music and dance.

Salon Art Projects presents six curated exhibitions across Darwin galleries. RIKINA! is an exhibition from the small community of Kaltjiti in the remote APY Lands. The local Art Centre is a place of learning where elders teach younger generations about cultural traditions and stories through their artworks. This exhibition is a survey of works that are both compelling and powerful. RIKINA! is on at Paul Johnstone Gallery, Friday 2 – Saturday 24 August.

Multi-award-winning artist Naminapu Maymuru-White paints the River of Stars, known in English as the Milky Way and understood by the Mangalili people as the astral version of the MilÅ‹iyawuy River. In this river the Guwak ancestral beings drowned and became the stars in the night sky. To see this exhibition head to Project SpaceSaturday 17 August – Saturday 7 September

Step into Mayfair Gallery and step back in time. Old Darwin is a large group exhibition celebrating an era of Darwin art, design and classic interior aesthetics of the Top End in the late 1970s and early 1980s. See it at Mayfair Gallery, Friday 16 – Saturday 24 August.

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