Saltwater Freshwater Festival

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Come celebrate our National Day on Thursday, January 26 at Queen Elizabeth Park in Taree. The Saltwater Freshwater Festival promises a positive, inclusive family day, for all communities to enjoy.



What is your position with the Saltwater Freshwater Festival – and what’s involved with this role? 

I’m the Artistic Director. This is the best job in the world, working with the artistic community, local businesses and cultural custodians along with the Festival team, delivering a unique line up of talent and performers across the stages at the Festival site.

I also determine the creative flow and themes for the Festival. Apart from booking artists and working with agents, developing schedules and securing projects, my role is to develop programming that encompasses all people from all walks of life to connect through participation − be it in a workshop, the Saltwater Freshwater Unearthed stage or through the Dancestry grounds and activities. It’s a family day with something for all ages.

Give us a bit of background on the festival. How long has it been around, and how was it established? 

The Saltwater Freshwater Festival is a nomadic cultural event that moves to a different location on the Mid North Coast of NSW each Australia Day. The Festival showcases the current work and projects of the Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance, as well as a national focus on arts and cultural practices. It is the only Aboriginal cultural festival of its kind in New South Wales.

The inaugural Festival was held in Coffs Harbour on 26 January 2010, where over 10,000 people attended, and the 2011 Festival was hosted in Port Macquarie, with over 7,000 people celebrating with us.

The 2012 event is being staged in the NSW town of Taree, celebrating and sharing our Aboriginal living culture on the NSW Mid North Coast with the wider community and commemorating January 26 as a positive, inclusive, family day for all communities to enjoy.

The Festival is organised by the Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance, a peak body for Aboriginal arts and culture on the Mid North Coast of NSW. The Alliance is governed by ten Local Aboriginal Land Councils (LALCs) across seven LGAs from Karuah to Coffs Harbour. This includes Karuah, Forster, Purfleet Taree, Bunyah (Wauchope), Birpai (Port Macquarie), Kempsey, Thungutti (Bellbrook), Unkya (Macksville), Bowraville and Coffs Harbour. This covers the Worimi, Birpai, Dunghutti and Gumbaynggirr Aboriginal nations.

What are the aims of the festival?

The Saltwater Freshwater Festival celebrates and shares our Aboriginal living culture on the Mid North Coast with the wider community and commemorates our National Day as a positive, inclusive, family day for everyone to enjoy.

Some of the Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance current projects include an Aboriginal Design Brokering service to link artists and design students with manufacturers across the world to create design products.

Certificate IV in Aboriginal Design courses have been established through a partnership between Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance and North Coast Institute of TAFE. Only last year the Saltwater Freshwater Art Book was published to showcase contemporary Aboriginal Art from the Mid North Coast region; check it out – the works are amazing!

We also aim to position Aboriginal Art and Culture as the foundation for the long-term social, economic and environmental development of the Mid North Coast Aboriginal communities. Our craft and cultural workshops are one way that we work with our communities to achieve this goal.

With only 9% of Aboriginal people on the Mid North Coast aged over 55 and 52% under the age of 19, our programs recognise the importance of engaging Elders Groups in the region to pass on traditional cultural practices to our young people, to strengthen the contemporary identity of the region and create innovative cultural products.

When and where is the Saltwater Freshwater Festival in Taree set to take place?

Thursday, January 26, between 11am – 5pm. The venue is Queen Elizabeth Park, Taree. Entry will be by gold coin donation.

Who are some of the headline acts we’ll be able to see at the festival in 2012?

Our music line up begins with Microwave Jenny. Part of Triple J Unplugged and based on the central coast of NSW, Microwave Jenny’s is a genre-defying style. Brendon Boney and Tessa Nukul combine heart-felt, Blues influenced guitar and vocals.

Stiff Gins Nardi Simpson and Kaleena Briggs have travelled the world, received prestigious awards, and created a loyal fan base with their heart songs and emotive performances. Now, with their new album Wind & Water, they have perfected a sound that honours the raw power of their voices and their history, while leading them firmly into the future of Australian music.

Returning to country, Black Turtles member Troy Russell is a Biripi man. The Black Turtles have had a luminous career spanning almost 15 years. They fuse an urban contemporary sound with a traditional Roots, Reggae and Rockabilly edge. Influences include John Fogerty, Ry Cooder and Warumpi Band.

Closing a great day with her Big Beautiful & Sexy show, Casey Donovan, a Gumbaynggirr woman, joins the main stage. One of the country’s most amazing performers, Casey recently won a Best Supporting Actress Award at the Daegu International Musical Festival for her work on the hit stage show The Sapphires. Casey has also just been signed for the new International production The Flower Children (based on the story of the Mamas and Papas, with Casey featuring as Mama Cass).

In addition to the incredible music line up, the Festival program includes two performance stages; Welcome to Country and other ceremony rituals; Dance: Dancestry; Visual Arts / Crafts, including exhibitions; acoustic music circle sessions; cultural exchange workshops; local emerging artists program; youth participation; the GenOne Yarn tent and forums and the Saltwater Freshwater Unearthed program.

Who are the people/sponsors you’d like to thank for making the event possible?

The Festival would not be possible without the support of sponsors and funding bodies. It is a free community event, so we rely on partnerships to provide the funds required to stage this important cultural event.

We are thrilled that again this year GenerationOne have come on board as our Principal Sponsor, Essential Energy and Greater Taree City Council as our Key Partners and Indigenous Business Australia, National Australia Bank, North Coast TAFE and The University of Newcastle’s Wollotuka Institute form our Partners.

Funding is also received from Federal and State Government bodies, as well as support from Arts NSW.

So can I leave your readers all with one question … “What will you be doing this Australia Day?”

Thanks Rhoda.

Interview by Jo Atkins.

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