Celebrating culture: the Saltwater Freshwater Festival

saltwater freshwater festival

In the heart of the Macleay Valley Coast on Dunghutti Country, the Saltwater Freshwater Festival celebrates the richness of local Aboriginal culture.


The Dunghutti people have lived in the Macleay region for millennia: from the saltwater coastal areas to the freshwater country upstream and the mountain country to the west. This living dynamic culture, and that of the four Nations in the region, is showcased at the Saltwater Freshwater Festival: the only Aboriginal cultural festival of its kind in regional NSW.

Opening image: Smoking ceremony at the 2023 Saltwater Freshwater Festival. Image: supplied. 


Children performing at the 2023 Saltwater Freshwater Festival. Image: supplied.


History of the festival

The Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance is the driving force behind the festival, and was formed in 2010 by ten Local Aboriginal Land Councils. It is proudly 100% Aboriginal owned and run, and supports the four Nations – Worimi, Biripi, Dunghutti and Gumbaynggirr – and three language groups within the region.

As a leading contemporary Aboriginal arts and cultural organisation, the Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance is dedicated to the social and economic development of the region’s 12,000 Aboriginal people. With a focus on innovative arts and culture-based programs, the Alliance seeks to bridge generational gaps, provide economic opportunities, and instil pride and self-esteem within the community.

In 2010, the organisation launched the inaugural Saltwater Freshwater Festival in Coffs Harbour to a fantastic reception. Since then, the festival has moved location across the Mid North Coast to allow different communities to host the event. This year, it will be held in Smithtown, a laidback village on the banks of the Macleay River dotted with heritage art deco buildings.

Aligned with Reconciliation Week, the festival aims to actively promote reconciliation through cultural participation and engagement.


The festival is an amazing community day, attracting people from all over the Macleay Valley Coast. Image: supplied.


Showcasing Aboriginal arts and culture

The Saltwater Freshwater Festival is a true showcase of local culture, skills, music, dance, art, and lifestyle. This much-loved community event is bursting with workshops, market stalls, live entertainment and cultural performances.

By creating a positive, inclusive family day for all communities to enjoy, the festival serves as a bridge between different cultures, fostering understanding and appreciation.

One of the festival’s crucial goals is to pass on Aboriginal cultural knowledge to the region’s youth. By providing a platform for performing artists, artists, and businesses, the festival not only showcases the rich and diverse Goori culture but also creates opportunities for intergenerational dialogue.

Through the dedicated efforts of the Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance and the support of sponsors, partners, volunteers and the community, the festival is a fantastic day out that fosters positive change and ensures that culture is passed down for generations to come.

The Saltwater Freshwater Festival is held on 1 June at Smithtown Riverside Park from 10.30am to 4.30pm. Entry is by gold coin donation.

For more to explore in the stunning Macleay Valley Coast region, check out the best small towns, outdoor adventures and dining experiences on offer.


Travel to the Macleay Valley Coast

Rex flies to Port Macquarie, an easy 45-minute drive from Smithtown. Book your flights here and check out the route map below.

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