Feast of Festivals
Major Victorian festivals grab a lot of attention but you’d be amazed by what people celebrate on any given weekend in all corners of the state.
They’re often fund-raisers, or community bonding or building exercises. They’re staged to celebrate specific interest groups or to showcase regional brands and specialisations.
They can be quirky (the Quambatook Tractor Pull), quaint (a button festival in a Gippsland church hall), edible (The Kilcunda Lobster Festival), high camp (the Australian Burlesque Festival) or high-brow (the National Trust Heritage Festival).
But they always involve you, the people, and among the main commonalities are invariably food, music, an opportunity to directly participate in an activity, or to listen, look, dance, learn or buy something to take home. Most events try hard to remember that kids are festival-goers, too.
Victoria is famous for its major events yet built around those marquee events are a host of interesting, boffin-specific or grassroots get-togethers that happen across the state on a weekend-by-weekend basis. Across Victoria this year there are:
While it began small in 2013 the Great Australian Beer Festival (21 Feb) has grown considerably. Aimed as an event to educate people about craft beers and ciders, it is a mixture of live music, beer and cider competitions, tastings and family entertainment. This year the organisers are after colour and are encouraging patrons to wear something fun and bright.
The Bonnie Doon Music and Busker Festival (20-22 Feb) has a slogan that’s a twist on the line in the film The Castle which put the township on the world map: “Serenity. No Way!”
Organising committee member Chris Wilson says that alongside headlining professional musical acts, such as guitarist Geoff Achinson, there will be mall buskers, flame throwers, sword swallowers and street performers who could all be potential stars.
See also: the Midsumma Festival (until 8 Feb); the Adventure Travel Film Festival, Bright (13-15 Feb).
Insurance issues killed off the Thorpdale Potato Festival 13 years ago, and the township in the beautiful Strzelecki Ranges in Gippsland suffered a second setback in 2008 when a potato disease saw its star product temporarily quarantined.
On 8 March, however, a revived Potato Festival is going to put Thorpdale’s rich volcanic soil and its nationally famous spuds back on the plate. Characteristically, along with stalls, dancing, fun for the kids and car and historic displays, it’ll be a strange if entertaining event with Hessians on the Field, chip eating, wood chop, the Spud Triathlon, and tug-of-war competitions contested by regional football teams, to demonstrate a quality called “spudstamina”.
See also: The Chillout Festival, Daylesford (6-9 Mar); the Water to Water indigenous music festival at The Briars, Mt Martha (21 Mar).
The traditional Holi Festival has become internationally renowned because participants become so joyously multi-coloured. Observed by Hindus and Sikhs, the fun of a mob gathering that is also about food, music and community, is the various moments when the crowds, who are mainly dressed in white or pale (and ideally sacrificially old) clothes, converge to hurl bright, almost iridescent powders over their heads while chorusing “Happy Holi” and cackling like rainbow lorikeets.
“The idea”, a participant at the 2014 Holi Festival explained, “is that the sky isn’t colourful enough.”
In India it’s traditionally a spring festival. In Australia the Holi Festival of Colours has become an autumn event, which has developed several venues around Melbourne. Holi Festivals in the metropolitan area include the biggest, at Tatterson Park (Springers Leisure Centre) on 7 March. The Hare Krishna event for 2015 is planned for late April.
See also: Prom Coast Seachange Festival (17-19 & 24-26 Apr).
Perhaps the little ukulele has become “the people’s instrument” because, as maker David Aumann says, “they’re portable, with four strings they’re easier to master, and they make happy music. Everyone looks like they’re enjoying playing them.” They can be cheap too. David says the least costly ukulele, could be just $30. The most expensive? “Up to $4000.”
Of many ukulele gatherings on the calendar, one of the newest, the second Hills Ukulele Festival, is at the Burrinja Cultural Centre in Glenfern Rd, Upwey on 29-31 May. The celebration will include performances, workshops, competitions and a stated aim of “serious fun”.
See also: the Trentham Spudfest (2 May); the Clunes Booktown Festival (2-3 May); the Apron Festival in Ballarat (10 May).
An intimate festival based in the heart of the city starts with the official commencement of winter on 1 June, and culminates with the actual date of the winter solstice on 21 June. The Light In Winter is a free, constantly changing and heart-warming arts, entertainment and light show event orchestrated by the doyen of festival curators, Robyn Archer.
Held at Federation Square each evening from dusk, the 2015 festival marks the ninth year of a low-key celebration that explores different ideas and themes with the participation of local, international and community groups.
See also: Woodend Winter Arts Festival (6-8 June); Burlesque Festival (11 June-15 July); Glen Eira Storytelling Festival (13-28 June); Robert Burns Festival, Camperdown (26-28 June).
From a standing start seven years ago, the annual Melbourne Magic Festival has grown into the largest “sensory feast of dexterity and sophisticated sleight of hand in the Southern Hemisphere”. This is where the famous grand illusionist Paul Cosentino got his start.
Founder Tim Ellis says the 12-day festival that commenced as a training ground for would-be magicians, “has worked beyond our imagination.” Last year’s audience was around 10,000. And the appeal of the live shows, Tim reckons, “is that it shows it is more than a camera trick!”
This year’s Magic Festival will be held on 29 June-11 July at Northcote Town Hall and will feature 170 performers in 50 shows, classes, workshops, junior champion events, exhibitions and MagicSports.
See also: Melbourne Open House (25-26 July) and RoyalAuto’s look at the 2014 Melbourne Open House.
In its second year in Melbourne (it started in the late 1990s in Brisbane), the GreazeFest Kustom Kulture Festival is a rockin’, revvin’, bi-city revelry that celebrates aspects of a social style informed “by all the elements born in the 1950s”. That is rockabilly music, ’50s and pin-up style fashions, hot rod and custom cars, “low-brow art” (their term), low-rider bikes and more.
More than 5500 people turned up to last year’s event.
The Sandown Racecourse venue has everything going on but, organiser LoriLee Cash says “it’s the people who are the festival. This is not a dress-up party. These people live the Kustom Kulture lifestyle day-to-day, in their clothes, homes, cars and their tattoos.” GreazeFest is on 8-9 Aug.
See also: the Walhalla Vinter Ljusfest (1-31 Aug).
Running for 29 years and billed alongside Tamworth and the Gympie Muster as one of Australia’s big three country music events, the Mildura Country Music Festival (25 Sept-4 Oct) is one of the busiest times in Mildura’s busy year.
Live and toe-tapping music happens all day in the city’s mall, and concerts are staged at 26 other venues in the region.
The main event is the Southern Stars, a concert that is built around the Australian Independent Country Music Awards.
See also: Ballarat International Photographic Biennale (22 Aug-20 Sept).
Centred on the natural phenomenon of the Bonney Upwelling, a rising of deep ocean marine nutrients that makes the waters off the Portland coast the richest feeding grounds in Australia from late spring to May, the annual Portland Upwelling Festival has been growing since it started seven years ago.
This year, it will happen around Henty Bay on 31 Oct, with the Blessing of the Fleet and a free barbecue on Trawler Wharf. With an arts festival, marine science talks, a street parade and market stalls, Portland’s only annual festival draws thousands from all over Victoria.
See also: The Nati Frinj Biennale (Natimuk, 30 Oct-1 Nov).
Held on 14-16 Nov, the La Dolce Vita Wine and Food Festival is about celebrating the slow-cooked and lovingly nurtured produce of the King Valley, an area that for the past 60 years has been establishing “the Italian spirit”.
From Cheshunt on the high ground down to the 126-year-old Brown Bros establishment at Milawa, the trail is about tasting, dining at leisure or buying to take home regional and rare specialties.
See also: Camperdown Cruise Rockabilly Festival (22-25 Oct).
For the past 63 years and because the Scots are a folk who like to remember and to celebrate their tartan heritage, the first Saturday in December sees Daylesford full of people in kicking kilts. So on 5 Dec, anyone within earshot of the main street during the hour-long march of pipe bands, the band competitions that take place all day in Victoria Park, or the massed band performance that concludes the day, will probably find their eyes pricking.
Organiser Noelene Gration says she always finds it “an incredibly emotional day because, whenever I hear bagpipes, I always cry”.
See also: the Disability Sport and Recreation Festival (Dec).
Notching up its 68th year in 2015, Port Fairy’s five-week long high-holiday happening, the Moyneyana Festival, must rank as the granddaddy of all community fiestas. It certainly tags itself as “one of the longest running festivals in Australia”.
Originally begun to raise money for a local hospital, the event that kicks off on Christmas Eve and runs through until Australia Day is now funded by the local council. Event committee member Henry Toller-Bond says it’s about staging continuous entertainments for people staying in or visiting the seaside hamlet every day and night of the holiday season.
One of the cherished highlights is the float and street parade on New Year’s Eve, which Henry says “is hugely entertaining in itself”.
See also: the Mountain Cattlemen’s Festival, Mitta Mitta (early Jan); the Portarlington Mussel Festival (9 Jan).
For more events, check out RoyalAuto’s Events page. See also Music festivals in Victoria.