Queenie rocks its Unconformity as festival celebrates Tasmania’s wild west

An article about Tasmania’s Unconformity Festival, which this year featured Mark Seymour and The Undertow.

Author:  Linda Smith, The Mercury.

Date: 14 October 2018.

Original URL: https://www.news.com.au/national/tasmania/queenie-rocks-its-unconformity-as-festival-celebrates-tasmanias-wild-west/news-story/58ab852245f37477298df82b942d95da


Article Text

Queenie rocks its Unconformity as festival celebrates Tasmania’s wild west
IN just a few years the West Coast mining centre of Queenstown has shaken its tag as a bleak industrial outpost to be the vanguard of Tassie’s arts revolution.

TasDance performers will splash im the shadows of the Queen River under the direction of Thomas E.S. Kelly.

When Travis Tiddy volunteered to organise a new community arts festival at Queenstown a decade ago, he had no idea the small-town celebration would morph into an award-winning event that would put Tasmania on the international cultural map.

But that’s exactly what The Unconformity has done — rocketing the remote mining town into the spotlight, with a three-day program of contemporary multi-arts events kicking off the 2018 festival this Friday.

It’s so popular it attracted the attention of freshly-minted Prime Minister Scott Morrison. During a recent visit to Queenie, the PM waved around one the event’s pamphlets and in a Molly Meldrum-esque spruik pronounced: “The Unconformity, it’s on in a couple of weeks here in Queenstown.”

“As an ex-tourism person, I am always happy to sell the message for tourism across Australia,” the PM explained. “Do yourself a favour, get down to Queenstown and enjoy Unconformity.”

Morrison went on to give the event a plug at the Liberal Party conference in Hobart.

Tiddy welcomed the unexpected publicityty, saying it was a “money-can’t-buy endorsement”

and an added bonus to what was already gearing up to be a great event that’s on track to attract an unprecedented amount of people to the region.

About 220 hopefuls from around the world applied for one of five artist-in-residence positions at this year’s festival, far exceeding organisers, who had predicted just 30 applications.

Art lovers from interstate and overseas have been booking airfares and snapping up tickets to many of the festival’s performances as the high-calibre event’s reputation steadily grows, adding to Tasmania’s MOFO and Dark Mofo-driven reputation for quirky festivals.

The biennial festival, which is inspired by the rare geological unconformity and remarkable cultural paradoxes of Tasmania’s West Coast mining communities, has also attracted a strong Tasmanian following.

People venture from all parts of the island to experience the art installations which are as dramatic as the landscape that surrounds Queenie.

This year’s festival will open at sunset with sound artist Dylan Sheridan’s Tectonica, with “bloody big speaker stacks on the main street” used to explore the West Coast’s geological history and celebrate the region’s most recent big geological event — AC/DC’s visit in 1976.

Up to 4000 people are expected to flock to the town centre for the opening event, a massive influx for a community of just 1800 locals.

The road into Queenstown is locally known as a “99 Bends”.

Meanwhile, an immersive audio walking tour by Halcyon Macleod and Finegan Kruckemeyer will lead participants through rugged terrain in The Falls, while Richie Cyngler’s work Listening is set in an old limestone quarry.

Prospect invites visitors to don a bright orange raincoat and “strike it rich” by exploring Queenstown’s Passion Park with a metal detector, while Tom Blake and Dominique Chen’s “roaming sound work” A Score to Scratch the Surface brings together local field recordings, archival sounds and fragments of stories reflecting the diverse threads that link people to the West Coast environment.

Hunters & Collectors frontman Mark Seymour and Australian blues and roots legend Jeff Lang will perform at Queenstown’s art deco Paragon Theatre while TasDance performers will splash in the shallows of the Queen River under the direction of Thomas E.S. Kelly in Junjeiri Ballun — Gurul Gaureima (Shallow Water, Deep Stories).

The Unconformity Art Trail will feature works by 20 West Coast-based visual artists, with exhibitions in shop windows and murals on the exterior walls of buildings in the town’s main street.

The festival will conclude with The Unconformity Cup football match between the West and the Rest, played on Queenstown’s famous gravel oval.

Jeff Lang will perform at The Unconformity.

More than 70 per cent of The Unconformity program is free to access, although some events are ticketed or require online reservations.

At the helm of the successful event is Tiddy, who has, over the past decade, gone from part-time volunteer to full-time artistic director.

He says 95 per cent of this year’s program was created from scratch, in response to “the ever-changing heart of Queenstown”. The key to attracting people to Queenstown, he says, is giving them an “utterly site-specific” experience they cannot get anywhere else.

“We aim to mine new ideas that challenge the status-quo, redefining perceptions of what’s possible in our special part of the world,” he says.

Tiddy was born and raised in Queenstown and although he now lives in Hobart with his young family, the fifth-generation local regularly makes the trip back to the West Coast, where his extended family still lives. “It’s in your DNA, it doesn’t leave you,’’ he says of growing up in the region.

Queenstown’s local tourism association surveyed residents about a decade ago, asking them about their hopes for the region’s future.

Overwhelmingly, locals revealed they wanted a fun and lively festival that would bring residents together and showcase the uniqueness of the area to the rest of the state.

The result was the Queenstown Heritage and Arts Festival, which kicked off in 2010 under the direction of Tiddy, a volunteer who was then also working as a graphic designer.

The festival was a success but after its third year organisers decided it had potential to be bigger and better and opted for a fresh approach and new branding in 2016 when it became The Unconformity, attracting a younger, culturally attuned audience.

“The very first event, we didn’t have much of an idea of event management beyond this desire and drive to create something good for the town,’’ Tiddy admits.

Queenstown’s famous gravel oval will play a role in the festival.

As interest in the event grew, along with accolades including a Tasmanian Tourism Award for Festivals and Events, Tiddy says the economic benefits for the region became clearer.

Interstate visitors who attend the festival typically stay in Tasmania an average of eight days, with festival patrons injecting $600,000 into the West Coast economy, bolstering business for accommodation providers, cafes, restaurants and other tourist hot spots. About 60 per cent of Tasmanian festivalgoers hail from Hobart.

“Comparing 2010 to 2018 is like night and day,’’ Tiddy says. “Those very first festivals we were finding our way really and we were all volunteering and now The Unconformity is taking a leadership position within the cultural sector.

“There’s a sense that The Unconformity is genuinely among the top tier of cultural events in the state. It has been a fascinating journey, and a hard journey, but we’re starting to see a really significant pay-off.’’

But he won’t be resting just yet, promising some bold ideas for the festival over the next five years. “You don’t evolve if you stay still too long,’’ Tiddy says.

The Unconformity runs from Friday, October 19, to Sunday, October 21, at various venues around Queenstown. Free and ticketed events. For details and bookings visit theunconformity.com.au.

Originally published as Queenie rocks its Unconformity