Best seat in the house

Festival Fleurieu 2017 is unwittingly delivering a fabulous similarity with a tune so many of us have loved over the past 50 years – Play School. You know it: “There’s a bear in there, and a chair as well, there are people with games, and stories to tell…”
It makes you feel young; good inside, but the difference here is that our western region is about to show off more than 500 chairs all over the place – outrageously funny and crazy chairs including those knitted, made out of mosaic, glass… even the farmers have made chairs out of galvanised iron to put out by their farm gates. Galvanised iron?
If you think that’s different, you should have seen the doors during the last festival. The hamlet of Inman Valley had one with a toilet set by a letter box – representing their mail boxes in the toilet block (seriously).
And you had better also believe there will be stuffed bears, people playing free games of scrabble and seemingly endless stories to tell especially during the 40th anniversary dinner for the Yankalilla and District Historical Society when Septimane Herbert, who currently resides in Christ Church Cemetery and Thomas Wilson, residing in Penneshaw Cemetery, argue which is the better town – Yankalilla or Normanville?
FF17 is officially from April 14-30, but it has already started with townships again displaying colourful doors from 2015 and artists hanging their latest works.
But as much as this biennial festival again promises excellence, evolving from the Leafy Sea Dragon Festival, it is far more than just a showcase of some amazing musical and artistic talent and opening doors wide to see inside.
It is an amazing story of how people from all walks of life who make up these communities in the towns – the children from one of the smallest but biggest achieving primary schools in the state at Rapid Bay, to the honest and hard working shop owners, publicans, farmers and healers – have all embraced this festival.
We are in the festival state, but rarely do you see the passion and anticipation expressed in the lead-up and during as the big event than you do in this region. Open the doors, they told us, and now sit down because they want to enjoy the show.
FF17 coordinator Jillian Langford remembers saying to herself after the first meeting of the Festival Fleurieu committee for 2015, ‘Oh my stars’.
“We didn’t know each other,” she recalled. “We had three artists, a musician, a Spanish teacher, real estate agent and an ex-stock broker… all these amazing people; my goodness.”
There was also emotion after years of the Leafy Sea Dragon Festival produced by other diligent volunteers with scores of notepads filled with outcries with the name change.
But according to Jillian, what stood out above this protest was the passion of the people within the region. “It was amazing,” she said. “The way it all came together as we went on the journey was just sensational.
“We identified and tapped into that passion of the people, and it all came to light when the committee came up with the concept of the doors. Today there is barely a mention of the old ‘Leafy’; I think people have accepted what we have tried to do with our festival because they saw our anything-is-possible mentality right from the start.
“People were worried about bringing in flagship events like musicians to attract more of metro-Adelaide, but then they saw how it encouraged everyone to raise the overall standard.”
Barbara Pettigrew, who is also on the board and the planning group, said with so many people moving down here upon retirement the festival just kept finding people with specific expertise to help them. “This festival has brought a lot of people together, no doubt,” she said.
FF15 also brought accolades, winning awards for Best Community Event of the Year as part of the Australia Day Awards presented at Government House, Best Community Event for Yankalilla, and a bronze tourism award for Best Community Event presented by the South Australian Tourism Commission.
There seems to be hundreds of community members involved in some way, from an energetic and competent chairperson in Jane Mitchell to the volunteers from the op shops, traders and child care centres to those in quiet corners engrossed in their pastels in studios.
“For us, it is of great importance for this festival to reflect all of the elements of our community,” Barbara said. “There are a huge amount of dairies out of the towns, and we wanted to include the farmers in this festival so we’ve organised a car pool to visit a dairy farm at Parawa. We discovered some had lived in this region all their lives and had never been to a dairy farm so there has been a mad rush to be part of this.
“Festivals are about art, music food, the environment – all those things – but we have tried to tap into everything about our western Fleurieu region.”
Jillian said that with this attempt to make the festival all-embracing comes the challenge of the additional workload and coordination. “We have so much in this festival,” she said.
“We have this opening event – Live at Bungala Park at Normanville (Easter Saturday, April 15) – that we are organising; it’s just getting so big. It’s like a festival by itself so we have a committee working on just that at the moment; the games, children’s activities, environmental workshops, and with a grant from Country Arts SA we have three hours of Indigenous workshops and performances.”
There are countless gems on the creative works trails wedged between first-class culinary and wine spots, quilting shows and sharing of literature. If a bit of country & western and a touch of rock is your go there is the superb tribute show to the Eagles by the Bald Eagles at the Normanville pub, and the brilliant Rhythm Cats at the Yankalilla Hotel where one schnitzel could feed the whole band.
There is something for everyone, and among the very special events is The Bush Concert, a performance by eight members of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and singer Susan Ferguson in the Jubilee Hall, Main South Road, Yankalilla on Saturday, April 22 at 11.30am and 1.30pm. The Bush Concert is brought to life with action, colour, music, song and dance. Tickets are just $10, and the show is suitable for children as young as three.
The demographics are diverse down this way. You get the locals reared on sensational pasties at the bakeries, weekenders, farmers, transients and the tourists who have never seen cleaner water at the pristine beaches.
But as much as everything is stunning and everyone is so nice here, including Gillian and Barb who call themselves the music and art girls, and there is so much to do and see, it all gets back to coming up with something quirky and creative to bring a whole community together to put on an award-winning festival – the doors. With 20,000 people opening them at FF15, share the best seat in the house April 14-30, 2017.

If you would like to enter or display a chair in the festival: T: 0416 110 806