Remembering the Stompem Ground festival
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following article contains images and voices of people who have died.
During NAIDOC week in 1992, 1998 and 2000 and 2002, the remote coastal town of Broome felt like the centre of the Australian music industry.
Over these four years, artists like Warumpi Band, Midnight Oil, Yothu Yindi, Kev Carmody, Coloured Stone, Mixed Relations, Archie Roach & Ruby Hunter, Nokturnl and local favourites The Pigram Brothers came together with other artists from across the country for the Stompem Ground festival.
The event drew thousands of revellers from all over the country – and particularly from across the Kimberley – and served as a massive celebration of Indigenous music and culture. Those who couldn’t be there experienced it from their homes, with the entire event broadcast on ABC TV and triple j.
The first Stompem Ground festival took place in 1992, thanks to the passion of members of the local community and a fortuitous connection with a very influential figure.
Mark Bin Bakar had just moved back to his home town of Broome following completing his schooling and apprenticeship elsewhere.
It was a dream of mine to celebrate the Kimberley.Mark Bin Bakar
“When I came home in 1990, I became the CEO of Broome Musicians Aboriginal Corporation and I introduced the Kimberley Aboriginal Arts and Cultural Festival,” he tells Double J.
“I wanted to do something that embraced Kimberley artists and Broome. It was a dream of mine to celebrate the Kimberley, celebrate my coming home and celebrate the talent in the Kimberley.”
As luck would have it, ABC Managing Director David Hill wanted a chance to show off the talent in this part of the world as well. And he had the resources to make it happen on a far grander scale.
“One weekend David Hill as up in the Kimberley at Halls Creek, he saw an Aboriginal band of young kids, was totally blown away,” former triple j Station Manager Andy Nehl says.
“It was the ABC's 60th birthday and, as well as having big live events from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, he wanted to have an Aboriginal music festival broadcast.
“I hunted around, found a suitable festival, went up and chatted to the Aboriginal people in Broome, who were very keen, and we worked collaboratively. We worked closely with the Aboriginal community in Broome and managed to create a much bigger festival than they were going to have.”
Quickly, the Kimberley Aboriginal Arts and Cultural Festival transformed into something far bigger. The clout – and the budget – of the ABC meant that the event was able to attract bigger artists and get them to Broome for the event.
In Live At The Wireless for NAIDOC week 2018, we’re taking you back 20 years to the third Stompem Ground event of 1998. It was headlined by pollical rockers Midnight Oil and Aboriginal rock legends Warumpi Band, who had written a song for the event prior to their first appearance in 1992.
It’s a big thrill and a big buzz to be a part of such a great festival.Leah Purcell
“This place is for learning culture, learning singing – this is the place,” frontman George Rrurrambu Burarrwanga told the ABC in 1998.
“This is the father or mother, who will teach a new generation. Passing it over and over, that’s what I want to see. This, to me, is very important.
“Tonight is a concert and tomorrow morning we will have dancers, which is good.
"Some kids want to be a singer so they can write about their own country in their own language, so their family, their people who speak that language, will understand.”
Another highlight of the event was the performance from Leah Purcell. Purcell had recently starred in a production of Bran Nue Dae, which meant she felt a certain affinity to the Broome community and was thrilled to finally be there.
“All the Broome mob are beautiful, they’re like a second family to me,” Purcell told the ABC’s Awaye program in 1998. “It is like a homecoming for me.
“I heard about the first one and heard about the second one and I’m finally here. It’s a big thrill and a big buzz to be a part of such a great festival.”
One of the highlights of her set was the song ‘Run Daisy Run’. The theme for 1998’s NAIDOC week was Bringing Them Home, which shone a light on the stolen generation, and Purcell’s song was a touching and fitting dedication.
“I originally wrote it for my grandmother,” she explained. “At the time that I wrote it, the stolen generation wasn’t brought up, it was just a story that my grandmother told me. You’d be surprised how many white people come up and say they didn’t know that it happened.
“It’s someone telling it from their heart and soul, the story that was passed on to them. Tonight, I dedicated it to the Kimberley mob from the Stolen Generation, I had an opportunity to meet some of the women, one of them was named Daisy, so it was special. Even though my Nana wasn’t here, she sort of filled the gap.”
Listen to highlights from the 1998 Stompem Ground Festival on Live At The Wireless on Double J