And the fes­ti­vals never fiz­zle

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - GRA­HAM ER­BACHER

Chances are if you’re in Bal­larat to­day you’ll be rug­ging up and head­ing out to the Potato Fes­ti­val, which kicks off a month of win­ter cel­e­bra­tions. In Bathurst, too, you may be strap­ping on ice skates for the start of the Win­ter Fes­ti­val. In Bal­lina the Food and Wine Fes­ti­val will be calling. And that’s just places start­ing in “Ba…”. Up in Winton, it’s the fi­nal night of The Vi­sion Splen­did Out­back Film Fes­ti­val. Even in the dead of win­ter the na­tion can’t get enough of fes­ti­vals.

The ori­gin of pub­lic feast­ing lies in re­li­gious ob­ser­vances, har­vests and great vic­to­ries. In Aus­tralia, we like to pay homage to Elvis (Parkes), ABBA (Trun­dle), trees dressed up in jumpers (Warwick), street ma­chines (Can­berra), bea­nies (Alice Springs), scare­crows, oys­ters, prawns, the full range of pro­duce, kites, lights and a very dark side of Ho­bart. Then there’s mu­sic, movies, manuscripts and all sports, in­clud­ing joust­ing.

Our burst of en­thu­si­asm for big com­mu­nity fes­tiv­i­ties, it seems, can be traced to the happy crowds who turned out in 1954 to greet Queen El­iz­a­beth on her Corona­tion Tour (al­though Toowoomba’s splen­did Car­ni­val of Flow­ers dates to 1949). First of the “new wave” was Moomba (“Let’s get to­gether and have fun”, but go on­line to dis­cover more earthy trans­la­tions of the word) in Mel­bourne in 1955, orig­i­nally ac­cused of be­ing a plot by cap­i­tal­ist shop­keep­ers to hi­jack the Labour Day hol­i­day.

Syd­ney came to the party the fol­low­ing year with the Waratah Fes­ti­val in hon­our of the NSW flo­ral em­blem, and Bris­bane launched “fun in the sun” at Warana in 1961. These were all floats, march­ing bands and beauty con­test af­fairs that have mostly mor­phed into high­er­brow fes­ti­vals. Perth was the fore­run­ner of the “cul­tural” trend with its In­ter­na­tional Arts Fes­ti­val, born in 1953, and the Ade­laide Fes­ti­val of Arts has reigned supreme since 1960.

I love be­ing out and about at a fes­ti­val, peo­ple-watch­ing as much as any­thing, and have re­cently been to Vivid Syd­ney and the Na­rooma Oys­ter Fes­ti­val. I was at an­other oys­ter fes­ti­val (not Na­rooma’s) a few years ago when sup­ply of the mol­luscs ran out be­fore the ar­rival of the spe­cial guest, a dig­ni­tary from a sis­ter city in Ja­pan. I’m not sure what the sub­sti­tute of­fer­ing was; maybe “Hey, mate, fancy a bat­tered sav?”

From fes­ti­val street stalls I have a kitchen cup­board full of pickles and jams, all turned out in jars with red and white ging­ham bon­nets neatly tied with gold rib­bon. I try valiantly to keep them in chrono­log­i­cal or­der. But I’ve given up search­ing through racks of old LPs (the snap, crackle and pop of vinyl doesn’t hold ro­man­tic ap­peal, be­sides which I have all the copies of The King and I that I need) and the Bake­lite col­lec­tion didn’t re­ally take off. Home­made soaps smell de­li­cious but of­ten sim­ply don’t lather. Does this usher in a post-shop­ping phase of life?

Never suf­fer from Fear Of Miss­ing Out in re­la­tion to fes­ti­vals (and did I men­tion Dar­win has a whole month of them start­ing next week?). They’ll be back next year and just oc­ca­sion­ally we all need a fun-time detox. Stretch out, re­lax and maybe lis­ten to your Wood­stock al­bum.

Su­san Kuro­sawa is on leave.

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