SPECIAL MOMENT: Esther Gabey (sixth from left), Leo Gabey (fourth from right) and Melanie Murry (second from right) meeting Yothu Yindi backstage at the 2019 Airlie Beach Festival of Music.
SPECIAL MOMENT: Esther Gabey (sixth from left), Leo Gabey (fourth from right) and Melanie Murry (second from right) meeting Yothu Yindi backstage at the 2019 Airlie Beach Festival of Music. Andrew Pattinson

Moving moment traditional owners met Yothu Yindi

AS ONE of the Whitsundays' traditional owners, Esther Gabey is used to attending large events for the Welcome to Country.

On Saturday, however, she attended a welcome she'll never forget.

Aunty Esther, her son Leo and niece Melanie Murry, performed the Welcome to Country on stage at the Airlie Beach Festival of Music after meeting Australia's most internationally recognised indigenous band.

Yothu Yindi burst on to the music scene in the late 1980s with their album Homeland Movement.

At a concert in the 90s they'd made a lasting impression on Airlie Beach Festival of Music founder, Gavin Butlin, who was determined to one day put them on the headline bill.

When that day finally dawned on Saturday it wasn't all plain sailing for the ARIA Award-winning band.

Three of their key members, including lead singer Yirringa Yunupingu, had an epic journey, by plane from Nhulunbuy on the Gove Peninsula in Arnhem Land, and then by car from Cairns.

During the seven-hour drive, a truck ahead of them hit a kangaroo, and backstage in Airlie there was a nervous wait.

Yothu Yindi perform at the 2019 Airlie Beach Festival of Music. PHOTO: Andrew Pattinson / Vampp Photography
ON STAGE: Yothu Yindi perform at the 2019 Airlie Beach Festival of Music. Andrew Pattinson

Aunty Esther had been talking of nothing else since learning the band were on the line-up and her family had facilitated a meet and greet.

Niece Melanie had been working in Nhulunbuy and gave Esther a book from the Yothu Yindi Foundation's Garma Festival, which she hoped to have signed.

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when the band members arrived safe and sound, ahead of a moving meeting in the festival's green room.

Speaking in their native dialect, they welcomed Esther, Leo and Melanie - members of the Petersen family from Ngaro country - and were in turn welcomed to the Whitsundays, with each describing the boundaries of their traditional lands.

"I got really emotional when they did the welcoming,” Esther said.

"It actually made me feel sad because we've lost so much of our language, but I also felt good all over - it really moved me.”

The band said the name Yothu Yindi was all about family.

"Black, white - we are all Yothu Yindi,” they said, before cracking a joke by singing the word "Treaty” to make everyone smile for the official photograph.

Out in the crowd, Aunty Esther said the concert was "deadly!”.

"The people really got into it - even the young ones - I was only there for that one night, but I could see how much had gone into organising the festival - it was amazing,” she said.

Tickets to the 2020 Airlie Beach Festival of Music are already on sale via www.airliebeachfestivalof music.com.au at the special, early bird rate of $250 per three-day pass.