Tanderrum by Sue-Anne Hess

The typical hustle and bustle of peak hour was somehow hushed Wednesday night, as Federation Square became a gathering place for community, family and guests, at Tanderrum.  Even the weather was in harmony, as a gorgeous spring day gave way to a cool, pleasant evening decorated by a colourful sunset. The crowd started gathering early, drawn to the firepit, as people have been for thousands of years. And as the wood smoke washed over us, we were soothed into a quiet peacefulness that created the perfect setting for the evening’s festivities.

Tanderrum is a gathering, a celebration, and a sacred ceremony. It started with a formal welcome to visiting elders, who responded to this welcome with a solemn declaration to treat the lands, the waterways and the people with respect. As the elders joined together in peace, the dancers commenced.  Bringing together the Wurundjeri/Woiwurring, Boon Wurrung, Taungurung, Wadawurrung and Dja Dja Wurrung Indigenous groups, it was a moment of welcome, hospitality and unity. Entering from the four corners of the Square, each group performed in turn, expressing the uniqueness of their language, movement and dress.

As the formalities continued, representatives of the Melbourne International Arts Festival were invited into the gathering to make their own declaration of respect and recognition, which was joyfully received. In fact, the mood of the whole celebration was one of friendship, hope and harmony. As leaders embraced, welcome and warmth was freely exchanged, and its’ simplicity was beautiful.

The gathering finished with all of the performers joining together in one celebration – old men and young men, women and children – all without division. It was particularly enchanting to see the little ones in traditional dress, being gently guided by the older kids as they moved around the fire, learning the ways of tradition.


Tanderrum, a comparatively recent addition to the Arts Festival program, has existed for generations, and gives the sense of something ancient, and yet new. For so many in the gathered crowd, this was an opportunity to see, hear, and experience the generosity of our Indigenous hosts, who have an abundantly rich cultural heritage.  We, as visitors, were all welcomed to the fire, regardless of race, colour or nationality. In a city that seems to get more and more busy every day, Tanderrum provided a moment to pause and reconnect with our history and our hopes. Through the creative sharing of culture, Tanderrum was a moment in time where healing seemed possible.

Could there be a better way to open the Melbourne International Arts Festival?