Sydney soprano Laura King and pianist Jonathan Wilson, winners of the 2016 Mietta Song Competition.

2017 Castlemaine State Festival

The Journey was the underlying theme for the 2017 Castlemaine State Festival reflecting both the local and international works offered in this year’s program, and the ongoing cultural evolution of this remarkable community.

The Castlemaine State Festival began in 1976 and is held once every two years. It has grown to become one of Australia’s leading regional arts festivals. Community groups, school students, volunteers and artists come from all over the Mount Alexander region to put the festival together.

Many organisations in the community participate; schools, sporting groups, the local aged care facility, manufacturing and agricultural workers, street rod enthusiasts, musicians, designers, gardeners, heritage specialists, and the myriad of visual artists and artisans who live and work in the district.

The program encompasses visual arts, music, theatre, opera, and dance and has been a major contributor in connecting people and developing enterprise within the regional community.

The festival ran from 17-26 March and thousands of locals and visitors stream happily into town in anticipation of great entertainment, culture and art events kicking off with a spectacular opening night at the old Goods Shed. We were taken on a stunning steam punk themed journey to ‘The Future of Things Past’ featuring dance, song, carnivalesque, audio-visual and musical performances by acrobats, dancers, robots, beat boxers and brass bands.

Local creative producer, international performer and the man responsible for the opening night extravaganza, Sam Thomas, and family featured among the central characters of the dramatic performance celebrating the town’s history and its vibrant arts culture. Well-rehearsed school children of all ages powerfully strutted their stuff cos they’d ‘had enough’ of unstoppable technology much to the delight of their families and friends who unashamedly used their mobiles to take photos and record the action.

On the journey with me were Queenscliff’s Rosemary and Bill Brown and local artist PJ and Rose Ott who were there for the opening of John Nixon’s art exhibition at the Castlemaine Gallery. Between us we attended free and ticketed events of all kinds. The only drawback was that we weren’t there long enough and in 2019 we have pledged to stay longer.

The streets were vibrant with art and activity, halls and open spaces hosted art and picnics and there were spaces for children to create art or just play. The Theatre Royal hosted Filipino Films and a New Zealand Balkan Gypsy Brass band Niko Ne Zna had us up dancing to their exotic tunes. The Old Gaol was the perfect venue for Philippines based performance artist Carlos Celdran who took us on a tour of his home city, Manila. I was in Manila 2 years ago and joined him on a walking tour at Intramuros showcasing Philippine history, society, arts and culture that was a revelation as well as an entertainment.
The town hall thumped as the concert ‘Ulumbarra’ told the story of the Dja Dja Wurrung people of central Victoria; stories and music of Aboriginal astronomy, the Gold Rush, the missions, Dreamtime stories and more.

Rosemary and Bill attended the recital by the 2016 Mietta Song Competition winners, Sydney soprano Laura King and pianist Jonathan Wilson, where Laura established a warm rapport with her audience demonstrating the fine acoustics of the Uniting Church with her powerful voice.

The Mietta Song Competition for classical singers and accompanying pianists was founded in1995 at Mietta’s Restaurant in Fitzroy to foster the partnership of voice and piano. It honours the memory of Mietta O’Donnell (1951-2001) and is held biennially. Can we hope to hear such a concert in Queenscliff restating our connection with the Queenscliff Hotel?

While Castlemaine is familiar with its own band, the Thompson’s Foundry Band, it is unfamiliar with the interior of the huge factory which spawned it. What a remarkable setting for the concert set amidst the heavy machinery of Vossloh Cogifer Steel, makers of railway lines. Thompson’s Foundry is a landmark in Castlemaine and since 1875 a significant contributor to the economy of the town undertaking works for the Victorian Railways and the Snowy-Hydro Scheme. Through the huge open doors of the factory the Castlemaine-Bendigo train was seen whistling past on steel lines made in the factory.

Tales from Trove – a booked out session in Castlemaine Library hosted by Robyn Annear, a Castlemaine based historian and author of much loved book, Bearbrass: Imagining Early Melbourne. On the recommendation of Ms Annear the audience was encouraged to explore Trove, the National Library of Australia website providing access to old newspapers. With more than 1,000 newspapers digitalized and 15 million photographs on line and discoverable using search terms, you too can bring local history to life.

In conjunction with the festival was the Castlemaine Fringe Fest, an alternative arts event run by the local arts community from around the region with mostly free entry or a small donation.

It’s people like this, and festivals like this, that I love. They welcome you to their town where they’ve preened and prepared for your visit just so we can have a good time – thank you!