All the news of late from the Northern Territory has concentrated – quite rightly – on Garma, its Festival restored after two years hiatus, and the politics surrounding the Government’s commitment to establishing a Voice to Parliament via a referendum to acknowledge our First Nations in the Constitution. Did you know that Indigenous differences about this are so widespread that not only do the Victorian Greens deny the primacy of the Voice, but there’s a mob who insist that the locals never gave permission for the iconic Uluru Statement from the Heart to use the word Uluru????

Of course, we have to bear in mind that there are 600 tribes or language groups across Australia rather than a single Aboriginal nation. So absolute concordance is unlikely. But surely it’s desirable at this pivotal time!

However, changing the mood, Darwin is about to take over from Gulkula as the place to be for a more cultural side of the Indigenous experience. Of course, the list is headed by the NATSIAAs with 65 artworks chosen to represent the country’s finest works of the past year on display. And in case you fear that, after 38 years, the Awards have lost their lustre, discover that 77 emerging artists entered the competition this year, with unfamiliar names such as Voight Ratara from Hermannsburg, Graham Rostron from Jabiru, Juanella McKenzie from Port Augusta, Tyrone Waigana from Perth and May Yamangarra from Ramingining.

They’ll be up against familiar stars such as Pedro Wonaeamirri, Dhambit Mununggurr, Tiger Yaltangki, Patju Presley and the late Kunmanara Carroll. A rich brew – with the Big Telstra awardee and winners in six categories announced on Friday night by, amongst others, Andy Penn, the retiring CEO of Telstra, now sponsors for more than 30 years. The odd couple of judges making the decisions are Myles Russell-Cook, Indigenous curator from the NGV in Melbourne and Dr Janna Barkman, art curator at the Charles Darwin Uni in Darwin, a specialist in South-East Asian arts.

Of course, not all of “the vast number of entries”, as retiring MAGNT Director Marcus Schutenko put it, could make the final cut. But some at least found favour in the Salon des Refuses, which this year moves out of its familiar CDU gallery into Gallery 5, which seems to be situated in Gardens Hill Crescent. The Salon team from Paul Johnston and Outstation Galleries who made the selection are also showing 4 solo shows of art by last year’s Big Telstra man, Timo Hogan, by Patsy Mudgedell from Balgo, and both Barayuwa Mununggurr and Dhambit Wanambi from Buku Larrnggay.

A newcomer to the Darwin culture-fest is the Melbourne-based Agency Projects. They’re organising a series of relevant talks at the National Trust’s Myilly Point Heritage Precinct. Topics include Indigenous Art in an International Context, Weaving Practices and Art for Political Change.

Of course the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair happens live again after a two year hiatus with artists from dozens of remote community art centres able to be there, showing off their wares, and an online presence as well between Friday morning at 10am and Sunday afternoon at 4pm. Ever-expanding, DAAF now also runs fashion shows and the National Indigenous Fashion Awards, its own performances at the Darwin Convention Centre, and promotes the National Indigenous Music Awards on the Saturday night.

And if a jolly Bunggul is unmissable, the Tiwi Islands art centres come together on the Friday morning to open an extensive show of islander work. They always bring their ceremonial spirit with them.

All around, the Darwin Festival offers performances – some Indigenous, such as ‘Sunshine Supergirl‘, the Evonne Goolagong story, told on a tennis court; an orchestral tribute to the great Gurrumul Yunupingu; and ‘Wangga‘ from the NT Dance Company.