NFF 2015/MFSRF 2015

April 28th, 2015 | 'Banjo' Paterson, C. J. Dennis, Camping, Festivals, Henry Lawson, Photos, Victorian alps

It is a little while now since I attended the National Folk Festival (NFF – Easter) and The Man From Snowy River Festival (MFSRF), the weekend after. Although I did not play a large role in either, I would like to record a few reflections of them both nonetheless.

I attended them both with Maggie Somerville. It was Maggie’s first National for many years, and her first MFSRF.

With all the build-up for Port Fairy, I had decided to take a very low key approach to both these festivals – simply sit back and let it wash over me, playing small roles now and then. Of course, it wasn’t quite that easy. Once you’ve had a taste of the limelight, it’s not so easy to slip back into the shadows again…

Nevertheless, I had a great time at both, and have no regrets.

The National is always fabulous – so much to see, and so many opportunities to be involved, even if only in a very minor way. It is very different to the country music festivals where bush poetry dominates. There is still a preponderance of rhyming verse, but there is still a fair bit of non-rhymed. (Is there a difference between non-rhymed and free verse? I don’t know.)

The Poets’ Breakfasts were well attended as always, though my feeling is that the audience numbers are a little down on, say, a decade ago. Certainly the merchandise table doesn’t seem to buzz as it once did.

Laurie McDonald, as Spoken Word Coordinator for the festival, has done a great job beefing up the programme for poetry and yarn spinning. There are now regular evening poetry shows as well as the Breakfasts, and the number of feature poets seems to increase every year. Five years ago things were definitely in the doldrums. My only criticism would be that all the shows are largely unthemed, and feel a bit aimless at times. I wonder if it is time to take the next step, and begin to build more ambitious, structured shows, with a clear sense of direction. Of course, this all takes time, and is difficult with a workforce (i.e. the poets) that is effectively volunteer.

The sign at the Stock Camp took my attention – very atmospheric. (Just don’t look too closely at the spelling.)

The Stock Camp copy

Of course, Andrew Pattison’s Troubadour has been replaced by the “Flute and Fiddle”, and is the new venue for the Poets’ Breakfasts. After a couple of years of resenting the change, I am gradually coming to accept the new arrangements.

The Man From Snowy River Festival at Corryong this year began on the Thursday after Easter. As this Thursday and Friday are not public holidays, one can only assume that the majority of those who attend are retired. Maggie and I both had work commitments, so were unable to leave Melbourne until Saturday morning. (Indeed, I was working until 11pm on the Friday night, so it was a bit of a scramble to get away even then.)

Corryong is a wonderful spot, tucked away as it in the Murray Valley in north east Victoria, with timbered hills rising all around. The drive to and from is a large part of the enjoyment of the weekend itself.

I must confess I have always been a little reluctant to attend this festival, as I feel fairly uncomfortable with the notion of perpetuating the myth of the mountain cattleman. I imagine they were heroic enough in their day, but I do feel it is time to remove cattle from the Alps. Mind you, a grizzled old mining surveyor very active in the Victorian Alps in the first half of the 20th century once said to me “There’s nowhere that the cattlemen went on a horse that I didn’t go on foot.” Perhaps that is even more heroic, yet we do not celebrate – we scarcely even remember – the rich heritage of gold mining in the Australian Alps.

Anyway, enough of that.

Corryong was the venue for the Australian Bush Poetry Championships this year. Jan Lewis and her army of volunteers did a great job of organising the festival, as always, and the shows were very well attended.

The format is a little awkward in that the shows are run as competitions, yet are also expected to be entertaining. It is a difficult line to tread. The biggest challenge is filling the dead time between acts, when the judges are writing down their comments. This is where the MC is truly tested. A good MC keeps the show rolling so that you are barely even aware that the judging is taking place. By and large the MCs this weekend did a great job, though you sensed a few times that their material ran out before the show did.

I also find it tough sometimes to listen to so much spoken word without any leavening of music. It doesn’t help that each poem is on a different subject, or telling a different story. There is just so much to take in. My trouble is that a good poem will fire my imagination, and I will find myself half way through the next poem before I remember that I should be paying attention to it, too. Some musical interludes would help to soften the intensity of it all. Having said that, though, it is difficult to imagine how that could be achieved within the current structure.

Here is the Saturday night crowd.

Saturday night copy

The Sunday Poets’ Breakfast was fun, and a great opportunity for Maggie and me to strut our stuff.

Poets' Breakfast 1 copy

Poets' Breakfast 2 copy

We left shortly after lunch on Sunday to face the long drive back to Melbourne and be back in time to be at work on Monday morning.

It was a great weekend.

A Yellow Submarine in New South Wales

June 12th, 2014 | Family holidays, Festivals, Poems for adults

Many times in recent years, travelling with friends and family, I have pulled over in Holbrook for food, petrol, and a stretch of the legs. It’s a pretty town, with the added attraction, of course, of the mighty submarine in the park, H. M. A. S. Otway. Most recently, I visited Holbrook on the way to the Man From Snowy River Festival in Corryong. (Why didn’t I leave the Hume at Wodonga, you might ask? Please don’t. That’s another story.)

Anyway, Holbrook has not long ago been bypassed by the highway, and the little hamlet is threatened with Relevance Deprivation Syndrome. In an attempt to combat this, and cashing in also on the recent 50th anniversary of the Beatles tour of Australia (1964), the town has ‘yarn bombed’ the submarine with knitted yellow squares.

Further information can be found here:

I couldn’t resist the temptation to write my own little tribute to the town that has become a small but important part of my life over the years.

There’s a Yellow Submarine in New South Wales

There’s a yellow submarine in New South Wales
Against which any other surely pales.
It’s a long way from the sea,
Yet it’s riding handsomely.
No, you needn’t think I’ve drunk too many ales.

It’s fifty years since we heard the thunder
Of the Beatles as they sang their songs ‘down under’.
They filled a lot of halls,
Both the balconies and stalls,
Though maybe not the Holbrook band rotunda.

Holbrook’s fear of drifting off the map
Has caused the town to waken from its nap.
The Highway’s passed them by,
But there ain’t no use to cry,
And now they’re working hard to close the gap.

So they’ve knitted lots of gleaming yellow squares,
In efforts to precipitate wild stares.
HMAS Otway
Is standing out a hot way
In a plan to soothe all local business cares.

So, if you plan on racing up the Hume,
Don’t feel that you must plant your foot and zoom
All the way to Sydney town.
At the halfway point get down,
And spy this monster shining through the gloom.

© Stephen Whiteside 12.06.2014

The “Man From Snowy River Festival” (Corryong)

April 11th, 2014 | 'Banjo' Paterson, Festivals, Photos

Last weekend, for the first time, I attended the “Man From Snowy River Festival” at Corryong.

Although this festival has long been one of the ‘blue ribbon’ events on the bush poetry calendar, I have for many years been wary of attending.

Corryong, a beautiful town in north-east Victoria, sees itself as the home of “The Man From Snowy River”. It was the home of Jack Riley, said by many to be the model for the leading character in Banjo Paterson’s classic poem.

I have read that Riley himself was no fan of the town of Corryong. He was gaoled there for six months after being found guilty of stealing cattle. He maintained his innocence throughout, and left Corryong immediately upon his release. He lived in a small hut in the nearby mountains for the rest of his life, only returning to Corryong to be buried.

Anyway, that is ‘by the by’.

The festival is as much about horsemanship as it is about bush poetry – probably more so – and, traditionally, the main reason for horses to be in the high country if for the purposes of moving and mustering cattle. I have long believed that the grazing of cattle in the high country is an outmoded and environmentally damaging practice, and this is why I have been reluctant to attend the festival.

With my book being published this year, I was planning on attending the festival for the first time. I suppose we all make rationalisations where commerce is concerned, and mine went along the following lines.

1. From all reports, the festival is really good, with many purveyors and fans of bush poetry in attendance.

2. The scenery is beautiful, and the facilities excellent.

3. There is undoubtedly a place for the celebration of Australia’s rich heritage of high country horsemanship. (I have always loved the poetry of Banjo Paterson, and he mostly writes about horses!)

4. The battle to keep cattle grazing out of the high country is very close to having been won already.

However, a delay in the printing of the book meant I decided to cancel my plans to attend.

Then two things happened. First, I managed to acquire a supply of books in April, rather than having to wait until the release date in May. Second, a friend, poet and reciter Ken Prato, rang last Thursday evening to ask if I was going to Corryong.

I had lost track of the calendar, and did not realise it was on that weekend. I suddenly realised that, with a bit of a last minute scramble, I probably could attend.

I had commitments in town most of Saturday, and was required at work on Monday morning, but there was no reason why I could not head up on Saturday afternoon, and return on Sunday evening.

So that is what I did.

My timing proved exquisite. It rained heavily in Corryong on Friday and Saturday, but Sunday was fine and sunny!

Needless to say, I had a great time. I won’t go into all the details, but I met many friends, and sold many books. Indeed, it is thrilling to see just how well the book is being received.

I arrived halfway through the Saturday evening concert.

Saturday night concert copy

The fine weather allowed the Poets’ Breakfast on Sunday morning to be held outside for the first time for the weekend. There was a large and very appreciative crowd. I performed “The Chinstrap Penguin”, and received plenty of positive feedback afterwards.

Poets' Breakfast 1 copy

Poets' Breakfast 5 copy

Thank you to Jan Lewis for allowing me to throw down my swag in the hall on Saturday night. It saved me the inconvenience of pitching my tent in the dark.

Congratulations to all concerned for creating a wonderful weekend of bush poetry and warm human fellowship!