In the gold rush era elegant, now historic buildings were erected in Castlemaine against a backdrop of native shrubbery and rolling hills.
The beauty of the region and its affordable hertiage architecture has attracted many artists and musicians over the years. Castlemaine's biannual State Festival is now in its 37th year and continues to commission works from local and international creatives.
The festival hub is in the heart of the town but works commissioned for the festival span across a wide range of venues. Art can be found high above the little town, deep underground in its mining shafts, in a mechanic's garage and even on the walls of historic schools and churches. With creativity so engrained in Castlemaine's society, it is as much a carnival of community as it is of arts and entertainment.
"The festival is very much part of the fabric of this place now," says festival director Martin Paten. "At the end of every two years the community is exhausted but also regenerated."
The state festival started out in the 70s with a central focus on music. This hasn't shifted, instead remaining strong but slowly converging with other artforms, allowing comedy, theatre and dance to gain prevalence in the program.
This year the theme which the 350 visual and performing artists were given to creatively respond to was 'elemental'. The theme has helped give shape to the festival, while still inspiring a series of individual responses. Another central notion that shines through is the encouragement for people from within and outside of the region to consider deeply what is important to preserve.
One installation in particular fuses the festival's communal celebration of both local produce and art. The region's two specialities come together for the festival's 'living stage'. Crates donated by leading apple producers have been used for the construction of a performance platform from which fruit continues to ripen and can be picked and eaten by audience members. The festival has increasingly been seen as a great opportunity to educate individuals of all ages on how to support local growers and how to live more sustainably and healthily.
"We want to make sure that anyone can find something in the program that can appeal to them but also challenge them," says Paten, who hopes to take people “on an adventure, they're taking a bit of a risk on what they might see."
Many of this year's bands have sounds based around brass instruments and give the feel of an old-school performance in which costumes, characters and quirks lure an audience of beer drinkers or diners. Events in the indigenous program of the festival, like the esteemed Blak Cabaret, bring together Torres Strait Islander and aboriginal entertainers together to celebrate with the broader artistic community.
The festival is a great opportunity for an area to re-affirm the beauty and talent of regional Victoria. One of this year’s VIPs is founder Berek Segan, in his mid-nineties and who is still anticipated to be on the centre of the dance floor, as he has been every second year for the past three-and-a-half decades.
Castlemaine State Festival runs from March 15 to 24 at various locations around Castlemaine. A 90-minute drive from the CBD; buses and trains are also available.
For the full program visit castlemainefestival.com.au/2013