Reminiscing about Woodford: The Planting Festival

Leading up to The Planting Festival in late April, I could not have been more excited. I studied the festival program like it was some sort of Holy Grail, attempting to schedule the countless workshops, talks and performances around my volunteering shifts. For me, the Planting Festival represents the intersection of three areas that I am really passionate about – the Arts, the environment and education.

Come Friday the 27th, we were ready to go. Travelling with a small group of members from the QUT Service Learning Project, the car was loaded to the roof with tents, food, sleeping bags, thermals and belongings. This, unfortunately, may have contributed to the burn-out of the car’s clutch only half an hour away from Woodford. Thankfully we were able to pull over on the side of the road and our QUT leader kindly collected us.

Once we eventually arrived and set up our tents, I was struck by the wonderful atmosphere of the festival upon entering. I felt my face glow with appreciation for the pink and orange lanterns, giant bamboo structures, cosy cafes, fires radiating warmth and delightful stalls. When I first set eyes upon the lit-up treehouse, I was awe-struck. How lucky I was to have been assigned the volunteer position of “Treehouse Angel!” During the opening ceremony, the festival fire and lanterns were ignited by the hands of giant puppets, accompanied by soulful music and a sublime atmosphere. Upon its finish, the various bands and talks fired into action and we had a spectacular time dancing to folk tunes.

On Saturday morning, I awoke bright and early to commence a bush foods workshop. We tasted some native bush foods – such as the finger lime and a surprisingly sour plum of which I cannot remember the name – before planting our own. It was empowering to be able to make a physical contribution to the conservation of Woodfordia – what the festival is all about. I can’t wait to check on my pink finger lime baby at next year’s festival.

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Wasting no time at all, I proceeded directly to a school kitchen garden workshop run by a facilitator of Stephanie Alexander’s School Kitchen Garden program. In the workshop, we explored school and community gardens as social enterprise. How wonderful that kitchen gardens can be used as a means of educating children and communities about sustainability, fresh produce and buying local!

After a short lunch break, I spent the next five hours as a “Treehouse Angel.” This involved welcoming festival patrons at the entrance to the treehouse, providing them with background information about the artist and treehouse’s construction and monitoring numbers. It was wonderful to be able to share, and receive, information with the festival patrons.

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Amidst the music and festivities of the second night, I was treated to a vegan sweet potato brownie – courtesy of a lovely friend. I also swapped the festival scene with the night sky during a naked eye astronomy workshop facilitated by an astrophysics PhD student. How magnificent and grounding it was to look at such a brilliant Woodford sky and listen to enthralling facts and theories about the stars, planets, milky way and merging galaxies. When the workshop finished, I could not tear my eyes away from the night sky and so lay there gazing in awe. Never had I seen stars and planets so plentiful and bright.

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The final day began with a yoga class on the lawn. This was followed by a much anticipated workshop with ceramicist, Bonnie Hislop. In this workshop, we selected two ceramic shapes – and painted a design onto them – to be later fired and made into earrings. Unable to decide between a watermelon or kiwi design, I opted to depict both on either side of the ceramic shapes. I felt creativity wriggle in my toes and was so excited to be able to create something unique and meaningful to me.

After my final volunteering shift, there was a majestic closing ceremony. Each festival patron held a candle and a crackling bonfire was lit over the lake. We all felt such a sense of connection to the land and those around us. Lanterns traced spirals in the grass, each decorated with wishes handwritten by festival patrons. It was truly a remarkable experience. Before saying our final goodbyes, we shook our bodies to the wonderful sounds of the Formidable Vegetable Sound System – a band dedicated to educating people about permaculture through feel-good tunes, humour and many diverse instruments. We then returned to the city to resume our hectic lives as uni students – but not without taking a piece of the festival’s community, respect for nature, harmony and creativity with us.

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