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Darwin Festival – what to see in 2019

The Darwin Festival turns 40 in 2019 and families can expect a packed schedule of events over 18 hot August nights.

Mindil beach, Dawrin Northern Territory,
Mindil beach, Dawrin Northern Territory. Picture: Shutterstock

In 2019, the Darwin Festival is scheduled to run from Thursday 8 August to Sunday 25 August.

“To celebrate 40 years of Darwin Festival, we’ve pulled together a wonderfully diverse program, jam-packed with eclectic and electric events,”
Darwin Festival Artistic Director Felix Preval says.

“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 .”

The Darwin Festival
The Darwin Festival. Picture: Supplied

The Darwin festival began as the Bougainvillea Festival in 1979. It is now the Northern Territory’s leading international arts festival with 114 events and 596 artists, 287 currently of whom are NT locals.

Acts already confirmed include celebrated Indigenous rockers Yothu Yindi,
funny-man Nazeem Hussain, Iranian hand drummer Mohammad Reza Mortazavi and Australian singer-songwriter Archie Roach.

Archie Roach Darwin Festival
Archie Roach will perform at the Darwin Festival. Picture: Supplied

You will be able to see the passionate dance theatre work of performer and choreographer Jacob Boehme in Blood on the Dance Floor. Or investigate the causes and consequences of youth incarceration with Declan Furber Gillick’s Bighouse Dreaming. If you’re a Quentin Tarantino fan, don’t miss the Pulp Fiction musical tribute night -Parap Fiction.

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

Darwin Festival events you need to see

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. The drums used in this performance were made from African mahogany trees planted post-Tracy and felled by Cyclone Marcus in March 2018.

Drumming up a storm Darwin Festival
Drumming up a storm will be at the Darwin Festival. Picture: Supplied

Drumming Up the Storm takes place in Festival Park on Saturday 24 August.

At Parade Days in Festival Park, you can see a video installation by local artist Huni Bolliger. 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.

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.

This concert will celebrate the start of the Darwin Festival with a fusion of traditional music and contemporary rock, featuring the internationally acclaimed Yothu Yindi. Support acts include Darwin favourite Caiti Baker and Adrian Eagles. The event is a fun night out for the whole family, a must on the dry season free events calendar.

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever Darwin Festival
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. Picture: Supplied

Catch the trademark infectious tunes and poetic lyrics of indie rock band Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever at The Lighthouse on Saturday 10 August.

Tom Snowdon and Tom Iansek return as No Mono, with a fresh take on emotive electronica. Expect full of melodies built on mountainous synthesisers and buzzing drums 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.

Mambali Darwin Festival
Mambali. Picture: Supplied

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 Fiction. Parap 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 at The Lighthouse on Sunday 19 August. Canadian Leela Gilday sings of love and life in the rugged environment and vibrant culture of her home in Canada’s north. For this year’s Darwin Festival she’s collaborating with proud Australian Indigenous performer Emily Wurramara.

Emily Wurramara Darwin Festival
Emily Wurramara. Picture: Supplied

Over at the Darwin Railway Club, the Festival’s musical acts will continue 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 star Stevie 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, will launch a brand-new album at this year’s Darwin Festival following a two-decade hiatus. Midnight Oil’s Jim Moginie and drummer Bill Heckenberg are also on board for this unique celebration.

Jessica Mauboy Darwin Festival
Jessica Mauboy. Picture: Supplied

The biggest celebration of Australian First Nations music, the National Indigenous Music Awards (NIMAs) returns on Saturday 10 August at The Amphitheatre. Presented by MusicNT, the NIMAs will feature artists including Jessica Mauboy, Dan Sultan, Electric Fields, Deborah Cheetham, Eric 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 Yarn, Bighouse Dreaming runs at Brown’s Mart Theatre Friday 16 – Sunday 18 August.

Guru of Chai Darwin Festival
Guru of Chai. Picture: Supplied

The contradictions of modern India, with its iPhones and ancient gods, come alive in the outrageously funny and heartbreakingly beautiful production Guru 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 Centre, Thursday 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 at Happy Yess, Friday 23 – Sunday 25 August.

LOVE+ Tiger Dublin Fringe 2015
LOVE+ Tiger Dublin Fringe 2015

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 Theatre, Friday 9 – Sunday 11 August.


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 Centre, Friday 16 and Saturday 17 August.

New Owner. Picture: Supplied

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 Theatre, Thursday 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 August the 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.

The Darwin Festival
The Darwin Festival

At emBARK!, youngsters get the run of Festival Park for three nights of artistic adventures. This annual mini-festival for kids 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, and the Darwin Festival will deliver a truly stellar line-up of very best comedians. Cal Wilson is coming to Darwin armed with questions 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 Lighthouse, Friday 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 in Aborigi-LOL. This award-winning duo put the ‘rad’ in traditional at The Lighthouse on Sunday 18 August.

Aborigi-LOL at Darwin Festival
Aborigi-LOL. Picture: Supplied


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 Encore will 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 Lighthouse, Wednesday 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 Lighthouse, Friday 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 Eclipse. Based 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 Centre, Friday 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 Oz under 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 Darwin Festival
Puzzle. Picture: Supplied

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 Art, Puzzle 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.

Blood on the dance floor Darwin Festival
Blood on the Dance Floor. Picture: Supplioed

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 Centre, Saturday 17 August.

Bangarra Dance Theatre
Bangarra Dance Theatre. Picture: Daniel Boud

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 Theatre, Tuesday 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.

The Ground we won will screen at Darwin Festival
The Ground we won will screen at Darwin Festival

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 features 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 Centre, Saturday 24 August.

The Darwin Symphony Orchestra
The Darwin Symphony Orchestra. Picture: Supplied

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 the Darwin 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.

SPUN Darwin Festival
SPUN. Picture: Supplied

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 August. This 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 show From 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 more than 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 Milŋiyawuy River. In this river the Guwak ancestral beings drowned and became the stars in the night sky. To see this exhibition head to Project Space, Saturday 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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