Newstead Live! 2018
Last weekend I travelled with Maggie Somerville to Newstead, a small town in central Victoria, for the annual “Newstead Live!” festival that straddles the Australia Day long weekend (when we have one!), and is close to Australia Day when we don’t. Usually the last weekend in January. Just before the schools go back. Something like that.
It was a scramble for me to get home from work after a long day, pack the car, head over to Maggie’s place, pack her stuff (and re-pack the car), then begin the roughly two and a half hour journey up the Calder Highway to the festival reception office and, eventually, our camp-site. It was well after 10 pm when we finally arrived, and we knew we had to be ready, bright and chirpy, for the Poets’ Breakfast at 9 am, followed by our own children’s show at 10.30 am. (Why do we do it? Because we love it!)
The Breakfast was MC’d for the umpteenth time (excellently, I might add) by veteran Melbourne-based reciter Jim Smith.
As always, the show was of a high standard. Here is a sample of the performers.
The show, as always, was well received.
This was the first year without Andrew and Heather Pattison and their small army of friendly helpers, as Andrew and Heather have now retired from the festival. They were missed – not only because of their smiling faces, but because food and drink was no longer as accessible. We were required instead to make our way to the not-too-distant pavilion where, it must be said, the service was friendly and professional.
Maggie and I had to leave early to make our way across town to “Lilliput”, the child care centre where our children’s show was being staged. It took a little while for the audience to gather, but the show – a mixture of songs written by Maggie and songs written by me, with a couple of my poems thrown in for good measure – went well.
Swinging the billy was a big hit!
We had a chance take a bit of a rest before the “Grumpy Old Poets” at the Anglican Church at 4 pm, where I was MC, and we both performed. The highlight of this ‘come all ye’ poetry event was the thunder and lightning that raged outside. We felt safe and secure inside the little stone church. Little did we know at the time just to what extent we were in fact its victims!
We had dinner at the pub (so Maggie could watch the Women’s Single Final of the Australian Open on the TV – go Caroline!), then bumped into Suzette Herft leading the community singing across the road later in the evening.
Maggie joined in on her whistle.
We returned to our camp-site tired but happy, looking forward to a good night’s sleep before doing it all again the following day.
Alas, the scene that greeted us in front of the headlights of my car gave us quite a shock…
It turns out that my casual attitude to erecting tents had finally caught up with us! The damage had obviously been done during the “Grumpy Old Poets”. The fly had been torn off the tent, and one of the tent poles, thus unsupported, had snapped in the wind. Our bedding was soaked, and puddles of water had gathered on the tent floor. (So that’s whey they attach guy-ropes and loops for pegs to tents…)
I eventually managed to prop the tent up with the shorter pole from the annexe. Searching around for bits of bedding that were merely moist rather than soaked, we managed to get a reasonable night’s sleep. (I think I slept better than Maggie did.) Fortunately, it was a warm night.
The next day was very hot, and our gear dried quickly. The tent remained a rather misshapen lump, but it was adequate for our needs.
Highlights for us after the Breakfast and our own show for children the following day were Keith McKenry and Jan Wositzky at “Lilliput”…
… and Geoffrey Graham and Carol Reffold at the Anglican Church.
(Geoffrey snuggles up to Maggie)
(Carol is joined by Christine Middleton with her beautiful harp)
A dip in the Newstead pool was a great way to wash away a few cobwebs (and beads of sweat) at festival’s end.
In no hurry to return to Melbourne, we took time out to marvel at the Malmsbury Viaduct on our way home.
Another great Newstead Live! lay behind us, but the memories (a somewhat mixed bunch, to be honest, what with the storm and all..) will remain forever.
Newstead Live! 2015
I have just returned from another very enjoyable Australia Day Long Weekend at Newstead Live!, a fabulous folk festival held in the town of Newstead, in central Victoria.
While it is primarily a music festival, the Festival Director, Andrew Pattison, has always been a strong supporter of the spoken word, and poetry and the spoken word therefore remains a relatively small but nonetheless important part of the programme.
There are three “Breakfast” shows held over the weekend – Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Because the numbers are smaller than at larger festivals, singers and musicians are always welcome. Newcomers to the Breakfasts this year were singer/songwriter Maggie Somerville, and poets/reciters Jim Brown, David Campbell, and Ellinor Campbell.
Here is a typical Breakfast crowd.
The weather was very kind – warm and dry without being too hot – and my impression was that crowd numbers were generally a little up on last year. Certainly the “Grumpy Old Poets” show at the Anglican Church on Saturday, and the “Poetry Workshop” at the Old Post Office on Sunday, drew the best crowds I have ever seen. Both were vibrant, highly enjoyable events.
I launched my new book, “‘The Billy That Died With Its Boots On’ and Other Australian Verse”, at Lilliput on Saturday afternoon. The crowd was small, but highly receptive. Thank you to David Campbell, Jim Brown, Jim Smith, Ken Prato and Ellinor Campbell were performing poems from the book. Thanks also to Maggie Somerville for singing “The Sash”, the song she has created from my poem of the same name.
The “Poetry and Music” show at the Troubadour on Sunday evening, featuring Danny Spooner, Jim Brown, Maggie Somerville, David Campbell, Dingo’s Breakfast, Keith McKenry, Jim Smith and Jan Wositzky, was also well received.
So far as the solo spoken word shows were concerned, Keith McKenry was extremely happy with his launch of his new biography of Australian folklorist John Meredith, and I also heard wonderful reports of Jan Wositzky’s Gallipoli show.
My involvement with the spoken word did not leave me a lot of time to attend the many music events, but two that definitely made an impression were “Harpers Bizarre” at the Dig cafe…
…and the “Wise Women” (Louisa Wise performing with her three daughters) at the Playground. (Louisa is seated at the front playing the dulcimer. Behind her, from left to right, are Rowena, Lucy and Ruth.) Later, unable to find her spoons, Louisa improvised with a violin bow and a whiskey bottle…
I also loved watching Martyn Wyndham-Read (right) and Dave de Hugard (left) sparking off each other. (That’s Ken Prato in the middle.)
Andrew Pattison is talking of scaling down his involvement with the festival next year, and handing the reins over to the locals. Let us hope the transition takes place smoothly, and Newstead Live! retains its warm, friendly atmosphere, as well as remaining a showcase for Australia’s best musical, and spoken word, talent.
2014 Bush Poetry fundraiser on Herring Island for Yarra Riverkeepers
The Yarra Riverkeepers held their second bush poetry fundraiser at Herring Island yesterday afternoon. The first was held in October last year. I was asked once again by Andrew Kelly, recently appointed as Riverkeeper, to rustle up the poets and MC the event.
I was again joined this year by reciters Dave Davies and Jim Smith, and poet Edel Wignell. Singer/songwriter Maggie Somerville provided some musical relief.
The weather was kind to us once again. There was bright sunshine for most of the afternoon, although the wind proved a bit of a challenge at times.
We had a capacity crowd, which was very exciting. Fortunately, unlike last year, the microphone behaved itself!
Here is Andrew introducing the afternoon.
A wide variety of material was on offer. The old masters – Henry Lawson, C. J. Dennis, etc. – were well represented, but there was also plenty of contemporary material, much of it original.
Dave Davies recited “The Grog and Grumble Steeplechase” by Henry Lawson.
Edel Wignell told us, amongst other things, about a dog on a trampoline, Harvey, “the bouncing, squat, Staffordshire bull terrier”.
Jim Smith recited a very moving piece – part poetry, part song – by the American writer Gordon Bok. It referred to the selkie legend – seals that change their form to become human. There is a very interesting link between Bok and the Riverkeepers. The Riverkeeper organisation began on the Hudson River in New York state, around the time that Pete Seeger was sailing up and down the Hudson in the Clearwater, also attempting to clean up the river. Jim told us that the captain of the Clearwater was none other than Gordon Bok!
The reason Jim was telling us about selkies was, as he explained, that it used to be very common for seals to be sighted in Australian waterways, including the Yarra, often many hundreds of miles from the coast. Indeed, seals are still occasionally sighted in the Yarra.
I had a chance to read some of the poems I have recently written based on the book “Ferries on the Yarra”, by Colin Jones – an absolute wealth of fascinating historic information.
Maggie sang four songs, some Yarra-related, others not. We sang “Muddy Old Yarra” by Clem Parkinson together, to round out the first half of the show. Maggie then finished the afternoon with “Our Sweet Yarra”, a song she had written based on a poem I had written for the show last year. She followed with “Waratah Bay”, a very popular song from her CD, dedicated to a beautiful part of Australia in South Gippsland. The afternoon finished with her song, “The Sash”, based on my poem of the same name, that tells the story of the child Ned Kelly receiving a green sash for saving the life of a drowning boy in the town of Avenel.
It was a very enjoyable afternoon. Thanks to the many – performers, audience, the Yarra Riverkeepers and their army of volunteers, and Parks Victoria – for making it all possible.
I’ve just returned from the annual Newstead Live! Festival, held in the picturesque little town of Newstead in central Victoria, near Castlemaine, on the Australia Day long weekend every year.
This is the sixth consecutive Newstead Live! I have attended, and I think it was the biggest, and the best.
The weather was kind to us. It was hot, but not overwhelmingly, suffocatingly hot, as it has been the last couple of years.
It is primarily a music festival, but the Director, Andrew Pattison, is a long time supporter of the spoken word, and this year, as last year, he asked me to put together the spoken word programme for the festival.
The highlight for me was the C. J. Dennis show that I put together, “‘Er Name’s (Still!) Doreen!”. The template is simple. I ask various talented reciters and actors to recite or read poems written by C. J. Dennis, and I write an introduction to each poem – which I read – with the intention of giving a context for the poem, and telling the C. J. Dennis story.
The line-up this year was:
The show was well attended, and well received.
Here are Ben and Ruth Aldridge at one of the “Poets’ Breakfasts”.
And here is Ken Prato.
Jim Smith, a veteran reciter on the folk scene, and traditionally the MC for the Newstead Poets’ Breakfasts, took a bad fall on the Saturday, and is currently recovering in hospital. Together with all who know him, I wish him a speedy recovery.
Here is Jim earlier on the Saturday.
And here is the man without whom none of it would be possible, Festival Director Andrew Pattison, in his customary position at the Troubadour sound system.
The poetry writing workshop was also great fun, with a small but spirited group of people putting their views on a wide range of subjects, such as free verse vs. rhyming verse, poetry vs. song lyrics, parody vs. plagiarism, commerce vs. art, and American vs. Australian culture. It was particularly interesting to hear Keith McKenry talk about his role as an expert witness in the “Down Under” (Men At Work) court case.
I was thrilled that some teachers attended my poetry show for children. I am very keen to find a way to involve myself in the professional development of teachers who wish to teach poetry for children, and was given some very valuable insights as to how I might go about doing this.
The community singing, led by Suzette Herft, Chris Lazzaro and Patrick Evans, was also a highlight for me. There was a wide range of excellent material presented, and I got a chance to wheel out a few of my old songs also, which was great fun.
Here are Chris (left), Suzette (middle) and Patrick (right).
I will finish with a photo of the ubiquitous Michael (the “Balloonologist”) Crichton, who does such a great job of enlivening the street scene of so many festivals.
Thanks to Andrew Pattison and the festival committee for another great Newstead Live!