Tuesday, 11 February 2020
While small in size and population, my state of Tasmania punches way above its weight when it comes to celebrating all the things we love about summer. The longer summer days and temperate weather we enjoy are already drawcards for tourists and locals alike, but, when it comes to summer, Tasmanians really know how to hold a festival, and we have many. Our fine produce is highlighted at many a summer event, but there are still plenty of other festivals and activities for those who want to look beyond food and drink.
Let me take you on a quick tour around my state, visiting some of my favourite summer events along the way. While many of us are taking it easy and spending time with our families and friends on Boxing Day, each year hundreds of sailors set off from Sydney to compete in the internationally renowned Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, which has been running for more than 70 years. Starting just as the crews are making their way up the Derwent River and into Hobart's docks, the Taste of Tasmania ensures sailors and landlubbers alike have somewhere to celebrate the end of the race and the start of a New Year with good food, wine, music and friends. The Taste, as we call it, starts on 28 December, runs until 3 January each year and recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. Over three decades the Taste has become one of Tasmania's premier food-and-wine festivals, launching many agribusiness operations and partnerships along the way. Owned and managed by Hobart City Council, it is run with the help of hundreds of volunteers each year.
Held at the beginning of December, the Launceston Cycling Festival started in 2002 when two keen riders, the late neurologist Stan Siejka and former professional cyclist Tom Sawyer, wanted to recreate the atmosphere of a European race right in the middle of town. The race, which has attracted the likes of Cadel Evans, Robbie McEwen, Chris Froome, Richie Porte, Simon Clarke and Stuart O'Grady, takes over Launceston at the end of the year. It attracts about 10,000 spectators, who ring hundreds of cowbells while watching multiple races, creating an incredibly exciting and energetic atmosphere.
Originally established in the state's south and held in the expansive grounds of the Museum of Old and New Art, or MONA, just outside Hobart, MONA's Festival of Music and Art, or MONA FOMA for short, is now a firmly entrenched fixture in the northern Tasmanian cultural calendar. The Tasmanian Liberal government supported the festival's move north financially, and the community welcomed it so enthusiastically that it has recently held its third northern program. Held in January in a variety of built and natural locations throughout Launceston, MONA FOMA draws in the city's residents and tourists and encourages them to explore the weird and wonderful through art installations, musical performances and cultural celebrations.
One of the highlights from this year was the enormous inflatable sculpture that was set up on the lawns of Royal Park, much to the delight of the city's residents. Created by UK based studio Architects of Air to reflect the Roman Pantheon, the Daedalum Luminarium comprised 19 interconnected domes, a special soundtrack and differing temperatures and colour schemes, all developing a feast for the senses. Another hit was King Ubu, a play featuring gigantic puppets that were developed for MONA FOMA and including a number of Launceston's community groups and performers in the cast. Using the beautiful Cataract Gorge as the setting, the outdoor production entertained audiences of all ages over three nights.
Continuing the summer feeling in Launceston, Festivale starts setting up in City Park not long after MONA FOMA packs up. Established in 1988 as a multicultural street party, Festivale has now evolved to be another of the state's premier food-and-wine events and attracts almost 30,000 people across three days. Like the Taste, Festivale is an opportunity to sample Tasmania's cool climate wines, craft beers and unique spirits with myriad food options. This goes down well while watching local, mainland and sometimes international acts perform on a number of stages throughout the park. Patrons can also take in a food or wine masterclass, making Festivale the perfect opportunity to catch up with friends under City Park's historic elm trees.
Not to be outdone by its mainland Tasmanian cousins, the Festival of King Island has a strong music focus and has been held at the end of January or early February since 2013. Australian folk, blues, funk, country and jazz musicians make the trip to the north-west island, eager to mix with the locals and tourists for the weekend. The Festival of King Island came about when a young King Island resident approached Canberra-born musician Kim Churchill to see how he could help her encourage young people to stay on the island, while also supporting the island economically after several major employers had moved operations away. Touched by her passion, Churchill then contacted Kim George, who ran the Savour King Island Facebook page, and together they established the event, and it has continued to grow in size and popularity ever since.
Running for almost 40 years now, the Cygnet Folk Festival draws so many people from across the state, mainland Australia and international locations that the Huon Valley town's population swells almost beyond capacity for the three days of the event each year. Cygnet Folk Festival is considered one of the country's iconic folk music events, but the program extends beyond folk music to include dance, poetry, musical master classes, film, art and craft and plenty of the fantastic food and wine I've already mentioned. This festival is run by a voluntary committee who want to encourage a wider interest in folk music and similar genres by offering performances and workshops supporting young musicians and fostering relationships between artists.
Starting as a celebration of island life on Flinders Island in similar circumstances to the Festival of King Island, the Furneaux Islands Festival began in January 2014. It combines aspects from the region's history and lifestyle, showcasing the community's musical and cultural heritage. As part of the program, organisers host a community barbecue day where residents of the Furneaux Islands, mainland Tasmania and beyond can join the cultural celebrations and enjoy food and music together.
If you head south when leaving Launceston airport, instead of north into Launceston, you will soon arrive in Evandale. This National-Trust-classified Georgian village in our northern midlands was established in the 1820s, and each year in February the town hosts its village fair, which coincides with the famed National Penny Farthing Championships. Penny-farthing riders, many of them dressed for the occasion, speeding around Evandale's historic streets so fast they look like they will tip over is a sight to behold. Both awe-inspiring and amusing at once, these races are a major drawcard for the town and they attract riders from around the state, nationally and the rest of the world. This championship event was established in 1983 and holds the Guinness World Record as the world's largest penny-farthing racing event. For anyone interested in attending, this year's event will be on 22 February.
Tasmania's festival season is enriched by two more music events held at either end of the state. The Falls Festival is not wholly Tasmanian, as it has been held at mainland venues too during its 27 years, but it attracts music lovers from around the state to see in the New Year in the beautiful Marion Bay at the southern end of our east coast. Party in the Paddock has just held its 10th and final event in the White Hills paddocks. It has grown from a small event for founder Jesse Higgs's 21st birthday, where the stage was made from hay bales, to become a sold-out music-and-arts festival that attracts some of the country's and the world's biggest acts, like Matt Corby and Lily Allen.
This is just a small sample of what happens in Tasmania during summer, with much more keeping our calendars full in those warmer months. Unfortunately, time does not allow me to touch on many other events, such as the Burnie Gift, St Helens Wheels Wine & Dine, Skyfire, numerous Australia Day events, the Swansea Art Exhibition, the Hobart, Burnie and Launceston internationals, Barnbougle Polo, Tamar Folk Festival, the Wooden Boat Festival and Taste the Harvest. Not only events for Tasmanian residents to enjoy, each of these festivals brings tourists to the state during our summer months. Here our communities can showcase what Tasmania does really well—the best quality produce matched with culture and passionate people. Tasmania really is the place to top up your cultural pursuits, tantalise your taste buds and maybe even cheer on your favourite sports person or participate. I thank the many volunteers and organising committees who put countless hours into delivering these events, and I invite you all to join us in Tasmania next summer to share these amazing events with us.