This article was inspired by The Planting Festival, Woodfordia, home of the famous Woodford Folk Music Festival.
We go for the music but we stay for the feels. And nothing feels better then the anticipation of packing your gear, driving across our flat, wide, hot brown land knowing you’ll be pitching a tent and your heart and soul inside the hessian hug of a multi-day camping festival.
The Woodford Folk Festival is a highlight of the festival calendar for countless music-lovers; and the Planting is it’s cooler (literally), smaller, hippy cousin. The Planting is unique in that its a festival that focuses on experiencing the environment first-hand by being part of replanting, learning and nourishing the Woodfordia site. Held each year over Queensland’s Labour Day long weekend in May, the Planting has been growing (literally) for over two decades. The original idea was to plant 10,001 trees and create a community to rebuild our environment.
The Planting creates a program of fantastic alternative and world music, which this year featured the legendary Shellie Morris, relative newcomers like Neighbour, and old favourites like My Friend the Chocolate Cake. However it’s real draw are the mostly free workshops, talks and seminars for adults and kids on everything from bollywood dance to attracting butterflies to making a pinhole camera to building a DIY sewage treatment plant. For the full-immersion experience there’s also a week-long series of specialist workshops, Artisan Camp, held before the festival where you can learn everything from songwriting and gospel choir to traditional cheese, leather and breadmaking.
For Planting newbies, like me and my 9-year-old daughter, it felt like walking into a magical fairy village where every corner was an opportunity to listen, learn and do. Festivalling with kids can be tedious but the Planting is incredibly child and parent friendly - it doesn’t talk down to kids or force parents to hang around the edges, bored and frustrated.
So here’s a list of 20 free things to see and do:
1. Unplug at a folk circle
Open folk jams are happening day and night at the Planting Sessions Bar. Songs include some English and Gaelic folk classics. Held at the bar on the lake, it’s more than worth taking the time to get in to the ye olde mood. Rediscovering the beauty in these traditional instruments, played beautifully outdoors, connects you to your musical tradition that spans generations and continents.
2. Stoke your fire
Years ago, you could light a campfire pretty much anywhere at multi-day events but safety rules means that now, in the dry tinderbox of the outdoors, you have only shared managed fire circles.
Discovering a new friend or talking about the days’ adventures while you nurse a hot drink or two around a communal fire has become a part of the festival experience - the Planting took it up a notch with a fire walking workshop.
3. Rediscover your story
Always throw a few real paper books into your bag. Festivals are often the only time you’ll want the space to crack open a cover. But finding a fully-fledged pop-up bookstore where you’re encouraged to sit and read for as long as you like? That’s just insanity!
In this case it’s Logical Unsanity, the 24-hour second-hand bookstore from Bardon that set up a printed oasis among the village mayhem. Walk slow and run your fingers along the spines of old books, feel the prick of memories, of stories long forgotten and then have new reading encounters of the best kind.
4. Experience the blues
The sky at Woodford is an incredible expansive blue. At festivals we’re always looking forward, and it’s a feast for our eyes and ears, and sometimes you need to chill.
The Woodford site means you also have the space to lie down, stretch out, and take in the incredible view overhead.
5. Find new rhythm
At the Planting, Woodford or any festival, exploring and discovering new music is why we’re all there. Seeing our favourites live is always memorable but it’s finding the unexpected new ‘favourite’ that you can follow or add to your spotify that’s like a surprise free gift from any event.
6. Join the crowd at closing
The Planting, like Woodford, had a wow closing ceremony with dance, bands and acts from diverse cultures including traditional Bollywood and our First Peoples. The finale featured a giant bamboo sculpture floating and burning on the water to choreographed lights and music. The lake acts like a giant inky mirror to amp up the magic.
7. Take a chance on dance
You don’t need overalls, but it helps. The final night bushdance was unique in the enthusiasm from a crowd that had clearly never square danced before. We were immediately swept in from the sidelines to join a foursome. It’s not an activity I would ever try willingly but in the moment, surrounded by the Planting tribe, dancing together was exhilarating.
8. Hold hands with a stranger
Several giant puppets roamed around the Planting a few times a day to the delight and (fright) of the children and adults. Easily three-times human height, the silent benevolent puppets, often gently swaying on spindly legs, were some of the unexpected and free performances breaking up the schedule.
9. Connect with a crafts person
It’s rare to see a Spinning Jenny (not a band!) in action. Festivals are often crammed with cheap goods for volume sales but at the Planting many of the stall owners were artists and craftspeople selling beautiful handmade and designed goods. Watching a master at work is a rare gift in a mass-produced era and these people are incredibly generous in talking about their work whether you buy something or not.
10. Follow the butterfly trail
Large full colour posters surrounded most of the major trees at the Planting. These explained the local butterflies and other insects and creatures supported by Woodfordia. Unlike visiting a zoo or museum, seeing these posters was a practical reminder that butterflies are natural in their environment and we are responsible for keeping them safe.
There was also a butterfly stall where you could speak with lepidopterists and ecologists as well as see living butterflies up close. The stall included kids art activities so you could really go in depth while they coloured.
11. Steam punk up close
Woodfordia has a permanent dedicated tinkers pavilion where you can get your steam punk on. Learn to solder, shave and circuit all kinds of mechanical objects. Work with metal and widgets, make tinker friends. Tinkering is a skill worth recapturing if we’re to reuse as well as recycle.
12. Interact with the installations
There’s several gigantic sculptures at Woodfordia - a bamboo silo, large tent-like frames and huge flower light sculptures around the venue. These became instant wonderlands for both kids and grown ups as you listen to the music nearby. It’s a great hybrid between the natural and man-made environments.
13. Leave a legacy
The Planting had volunteer projects going all weekend - from weeding and revegetation, to building a permanent playground for future visitors. The playground building, or Kidfordia, was a project forkids 10 to 17. Each kid had to get their ‘licence’ stamped by a volunteer trainer before they could use the electrical and building equipment. It’s the ultimate experiential learning and a fun way to help.
14. Spontaneous playground
The giant and beautiful trees, creek beds, rocks and grassy areas all became playgrounds and science labs for the kids of the Planting. Watching them explore, navigate, make teams and help each other find a new place to climb or dig was a great reminder of what it was like to be a kid before urbanisation and commercial playgrounds. These areas meant the adults could also chill out and get to know each other.
15. Go deep in conversation
You’re here for days, away from routines and alarm clocks. Take the time, engage with people, meet someone new, talk to them, make it real not just superficial. Ask them questions about their lives. Listen to the answers. These new relationships can be as long as the conversation or as short as the festival. A moment can stay with you for a lifetime.
16. Remember Australia’s first people
All Australian festivals pay respect to our first peoples and some even mean it. At the Planting, indigenous culture, dance, art and traditional life is honoured in many ways. There’s a tent to visit and see artists creating work and there were some very accessible dance and performance events.
There’s always lip service paid to including Australia’s Indigenous people in an event and seeing how seamlessly this can be done, without the usual ‘othering’, was incredibly satisfying.
17. The kids are alright
To my daughter’s utter delight, the Planting had its own Children’s Festival across Saturday and Sunday. Interactive arts, jewelry-making, creating a mini cob house, storytime, music, theatre and parades.
The Planting themes of sustainability, natural materials, caring for our planet and ecology were all gently woven through the program. It felt neither fake nor forced.
18. Doorway to creativity
There are luckily plenty of toilet blocks around the Woodford site and each has intricately hand painted toilet door cubicles. Without realising it, we painted at least a dozen more over the days of the Planting.
19. Explore the Labyrinth
Halfway up the hill, past the Tibetan musical cylinders, behind the Woodford maze, you’ll find the Labyrinth. Sometimes musicians played in the alter-stage to enhance your journey, sometimes mindful workshops were held, but always you could count on a moment of contemplation and beauty outside the main festival arena.
20. Make a zine
A dedicated crafting village, Fixation, straddled the kids festival and main area. Here you could work with clay, or do any of the other free art and craft workshops. The culmination was a giant zine crated by Jeremy Staples using old magazines, typewriters and photocopiers. The process of actually cutting and sticking, as opposed to using keystrokes, was liberating and fun in the extreme.
There’s at least another 20 fun, free things I could list but if you’re still reading you should just check it out for yourself.
Tickets for Woodford 27 December 2018 - 1 January 2019 are now on sale. The Planting 2019 will be on from 4-6 May with an artisan program a week earlier. Woodfordia hosts events and communities all year round, check it out.
Irena Bee is a membership and community strategist and writer. She runs the Green Drinks Brisbane and works with community groups, nonprofits and member organisations to build stronger communities and civil society. Irena and her daughter Sofia were guests of the Planting in 2018.