Above: Gay Epstein presenting Jo Nixon, director of the festival, with her Beanie Queen crown.
STORY and PHOTOS by KIERAN FINNANE
There were enough people wearing handmade beanies on board the Qantas flight to Alice from Sydney on Thursday for a flight attendant to suggest a beanie competition. Mayor Damien Ryan was among the passengers and was asked to be judge. He may have been, he suggested, the first person to ever choose a winning beanie at 30,000 feet.
Thousands, both locals and visitors, once again turned out on opening day of the festival, enough to break all past records for day one sales. This has given organisers – supported by 120 volunteers – confidence that last year’s all time record of four and half thousand beanies sold, bringing in almost $180,000, will be surpassed this weekend.
At right: On the big screen at last night’s opening, Mayor Damien Ryan in the beanie spirit, Minister Bess Price on his right.
Some of this money finds its way to worthy causes, such as the Purple House which supports remote area renal dialysis patients while they are in town; but some also goes directly back to beanie-makers, among them women from right across the Aboriginal lands of the Centre. It’s an important source of supplementary income to them, said Minister Bess Price at the opening, but the activity is about more than that.
“I was so proud to see all the beanies from the bush. The colours, the stories, the artwork blew me away.”
She praised the work of her aunty Julie Kitson and Janelle Ross who had worked tirelessly with festival director Jo Nixon to “spread the good news about beanies” – mukata in Warlpiri – as a way of improving “the lives of young and old through art”.
At left and below: A long way from the original mukata, imagination is the limit to the beanies of today.
Jo Nixon was crowned Beanie Queen last night in acknowledgement of her commitment to this festival. Working alongside her aunty Adi Dunlop, she “opened up her home and life to the Beanie Festival 20 years ago”, finding the ways “to make beanie dreams come true”.
These take shape – for makers from Aboriginal and many other backgrounds – in an endless variety of form, colour, motif, and technique, and sometimes they are not even beanies, as demonstrated by the young models who came to the stage wearing and holding the winning and runner up entries in the various categories of this year’s competition.
Inside Araluen there are six and a half thousand more to compete the picture!
Activities, including drop-in workshops and demonstrations of ancient spinning techniques by Aboriginal craftswomen, continue across the weekend till Monday. The exhibition of competition winners is on display till 17 July.
Above: Adding to the festival’s celebration of cultural diversity in The Centre, children from Yipirinya School, among the many who make up Drum Atweme, put down their instruments to sing Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me”. • Below: Rusty and the Infidels gave a spirited performance of tracks from their album, Desert Klezmer.