Joondalup Festival Retrospective

A Look at The Joondalup Festival 2015
Words by: Sarah Ison
Image credit: Grace F 

If you’re around my age and the mention of a ‘community festival’ typically makes you cringe, I get it. Crying kids, noisy and gaudy circus games and deep fried stall food that makes you fight the resolve not to use one of three available porto-potties, then yes, it probably seems best to steer clear.

Sure these festivals exist, festivals which maybe seem like they’re trying to hard, or not trying at all, or perhaps seem like nothing more than one huge kid’s mess hall.

I’ve been to festivals like this. Festivals with tiny plastic bags ironically called ‘show bags’ and with crusty chips on display for too long being the best opportunity for lunch. Festivals where the main attraction is no more than a BMX arena with bike ramps on either end for twelve to sixteen year olds to show off their ‘mad skills’.

Funnily enough, what I have just described is a past experience at the Joondalup Festival, the festival which, as you may have guessed, is the focus of this retrospective.

Living in Currambine, I have attended the annual Joondalup Festival most years, with the exception of the last two or three, in which university life offered me a much needed alternative. Even as a kid I registered how low key the festival was, not bothering to ever invite friends along, mostly out of fear or embarrassment for showing them my local community ‘showcase’.

I was thus pretty surprised when I received this year’s festival programme in the mail and was left with many questions. First of course; ‘The Joondalup Festival does programmes?’, closely followed by ‘and they’re this thick?’.

Following this was my wonderment at the variety in the colourful thirty page booklet. There were circus acts, theatre pieces, illusion, magic and even an orchestra. I was puzzled by the thought of where all these acts would take place, surely not on the same intersection I remembered. But if not there, then where?

It was these questions that made me clear my Saturday and head down, for the first time in about three years, to the Joondalup Festival. Out of sheer optimistic hope, I even brought along a friend.

We started out by heading towards the Boas Avenue and Grand Boulevard intersection, where once you could stand right in the centre, do a 360-degree turn and safely conclude that you had seen all of The Joondalup Festival. But as we neared the expected ‘hub’ of the event, we were surprised to see that the intersection was for the most part still in use, hardly closed off at all to cars passing through.

For a good few minutes I began to feel anxious. Had the festival really gone down hill this much? It had apparently been running all morning, and yet there was hardly anyone around and the place was all but dead. Nervously I glanced over at my friend, who I could see was just as skeptical as I was. Already I began to regret digressing from the wisdom of my twelve-year-old self.

But then we began to hear noise. There was distinct music coming from further up Grand Boulevard, and other noises as well. Cheers and chatter became louder and louder as we walked with ever more curiosity in the direction of the local library. And then, almost all at once, The Festival jumped out at us.

Acrod parking lot, usually shared by Lottery House and the library, had been completely closed off and turned into a contained show ground. A maze of stalls wound around the carpark, selling a variety of wares, like Jewelry, clothing and lighting, and a variety of food, such as ‘Japanese pastries’ and ‘Brazilian snacks.’

As we entered, a troop of female dancers and guitarists dressed in extravagant costumes skipped passed us, greeting and welcoming us excitedly to The Festival before moving on.

As we exited the market stalls, we came upon half a dozen or so rides like a mini roller coaster, a merry-go-round, bumper cars and a large swing carousel. Beyond this, a handful of half decent circus games lined up side by side to form a short laneway called ‘Carnival Corner’.

As my friend and I began preparing ourselves for another loop of the showground, we noticed a signpost pointing us out of the parking lot and towards ‘Mad Hatter’s Outdoor Area’, Fairhaven Tent’ and ‘Magic Gardens and Wit’s End Pond’. Apparently there was more, a whole lot more.

The path leading towards what I knew as Central Park was lined with colourful decorations, and large arrows pointing to ‘Fairhaven Tent’. My question as to what exactly this meant was quickly answered as a tall big top came into view, and towered above us as we entered the usually quiet and empty park.

Along with the gigantic circus tent, the rest of the park was filled with all manner of attractions, activities and performers to enjoy. For those of the public less inclined, dozens of colourful beanbags dotted the grassed area, shaded by parasouls and positioned wonderfully close to the open air bars.

No matter if you decided to sit or stand however, the towering characters of the festival, or if you prefer, actors on stilts, approached almost anyone. Often they would sneak up behind passers by in attempts to scare or shock as much of the public as possible.

I was personally approached by one particular character, The Queen of Hearts herself, and told that my head was to come off (naturally) so that she may take and wear my necklace. After asking for a photo she pointed down at me and ordered me to courtesy if I wanted such an ‘honour’. Even as my friend and I cackled, I was screamed at again and again to courtesy, subsequently drawing quite a crowd. Eventually I had to give in and took the best courtesy I could, which according to The Queen, ‘looked more like I was trying to have a wee’.

After this more than adequate humiliation, we headed further down the path through the park, which lead us into ‘Wonderland Walk and Wits End Pond’. This area of the festival was bizarre, busy and beautiful. What used to be a couple of ponds surrounded by bush, was turned into a beautifully disorganized and chaotic mismatch of porcelain, soft toys, action figures, metal figurines, clothes and odd knick knacks that absolutely did not belong.

The surrounding gardens looked as if a giant child’s toy box had exploded in the centre of the space, showering down all manner of collectibles and toys onto a once plain park.

At the very end of Wonderland Walk was ‘Rostelli’s Tent’, which, along with Fairhaven Tent and Madhatter’s Outdoor Stage, showcased a variety of local talent. While some acts were relatively low key, The Festival did have one or two bigger names to show off, most notably Peter Rowsthorn, who recentally starred in Paper Planes, and is best known for his role in Kath and Kim. Along with Melbourne comedians James Eaton and Xavier Michelides, Rowsthorn brought some very high quality stand up comedy to this very local festival. As if this wasn’t stunning enough, all these shows, the comedy, circus, illusion and magic, were open to the public for absolutely no charge.

It took a long time for this to sink in for my friend and I, and our first entry into the Fairhaven Tent was very slow and hesitant, as we expected to be stopped and asked at any moment for our tickets.  However, for every venue and every performance, no catch or hidden price presented itself, and we were free to enjoy all the festival performances without paying a cent.

The money that we subsequently saved on acts went towards a variety of the food available at stalls and food trucks set up on Boas Avenue. Contrary to many past experiences, the food we bought and shared that day was actually one of the highlights of The Festival. After taking our first loop of the stalls and ogling at the food, my friend and I could barely hold back, and between the two of us bought a sizeable feast. From ‘Bangkok Street’ we bought a serving of prawn pad thai and coconut pork skewers. Next, we went to the Comida Do Sul Brazilian Food Truck, for a serving each of the ‘Coxinhas’. Finally, from Bollyfood each of us eagerly bought butter chicken pies, which did not disappoint and proved to be the tastiest and best value buy of the day. A close second was the Coxinhas from Comida Do Sul Brazilian Food Truck, one of the line ups at the upcoming ‘Food Truck Rumble’ that I highly recommend.

Rather than enjoying our feast on plastic or metal chairs and tables as expected, we found an array of artfully crafted wooden chairs and tables situated directly in front of the ‘Mad Hatter Outdoor Stage’, and were lucky enough to catch a handful of musical performances as we ate.

Unlike past years and unlike many festivals, The Joondalup Festival did not disappoint, far from it.

For me, the day was vaguely nostalgic of The Royal Show, with the range of rides and games seeming to me like one of the quieter allies of the showground. At the same time, the day was also somewhat reminiscent of my experiences at Fringe Festival, at which each night would consist of ‘venue hopping’ and catching a rich mixture of performance art at every new tent, stage or theatre I visited. I was even just slightly reminded of a recent trip to Singapore, in which street markets with hugely diverse yet cheap food were prominent.

It was this level of variety that made the time I spent at The Joondalup Festival so excellent. Rather than being situated in the one intersection with the one main attraction and the one distinct atmosphere, this year I found that The Joondalup Festival went above and beyond to create a rich, diverse and fun experience for its patrons. The public had the ability to choose the kind of day they wanted to have at The Festival, whether it be a day of live performance, a day of eating and drinking, a day of rides or of shopping, the choice is completely theirs.

In light of this, after giving The Joondalup Festival a chance, I have found my reservations towards such community events somewhat alleviated and greatly look forward to attending this, and perhaps even other festivals next year.