04 August 2017
'DONT LOOK AWAY'', INSTRUCTS THE WINTER WILD FESTIVALby MATT CHARLESWORTH
“Don’t look away”, instructs the Winter Wild Festival… Seriously do not! I can guarantee you will have to see it to believe it. One of the newest and more peculiar events on the Great Ocean Road has risen from the depths of Winter in Apollo Bay. The Shipwreck Coast is beaming with visitors during warmer months but only brave souls conquer the road during Winter. There are now more reasons than ever to give it a go as Winter Wild festivities pop up over four magnificent weekends in July & August. The event holds an appreciation for natural elements; water, air, earth and fire set the theme for each weekend. Our curiosity got the better of us, we just had to check out the local’s spin on the fire weekend.
Rain had started to fall and it looked as though it had settled in. I really thought the attendance for “after-dark” celebrations would be slim but we grabbed our rain coats and headed for the foreshore anyway. It turns out a few droplets doesn’t deter anyone in Apollo Bay, as we joined a big crowd on the main beach. A “wild wood” tree stood as the centre piece; a spiritual structure developed by festival goers. The idea is to first purchase a carved wooden leaf from shops in town; second, write a message or secret on the wild wood; then, push out a token for keepsake; either a snake, black cockatoo, whale or swamp wallaby and lastly, hang the leaf from the tree. The collection of stories, secrets and confessions fuelled the fire as a burning ceremony commenced on the sand. What proceeded was nothing like we had anticipated.
The eerie night was woken by the sound of drums. Fire dancers emerged from the darkness dressed head to toe in what looked like a gothic-rock outfit. Members of the circle broke into hymn as if reciting an ancient oath, over and over. The wild-wood was up in flames, each one of the confessions becoming nothing but smoke and embers. The crowd circled the structure, worshipping its energy… only such a thing would happen in Apollo Bay. It could have just as easily been an induction to some isolated cult living in the misty Otways. It was mysterious, it was entertaining, it was fun and we could not stop looking. Celebrations continued with an impressive fireworks display and huge bonfire. The pyrotechnics were a hit amongst the kids: “they had spinny ones, big ones, loud ones, fast ones and PINK ONES!”.
Music performances in the old “Mech” building were the drawcard for many. Seven talented artists filled out the line-up, none of which we had heard of before. The style fell somewhere between alternative, folk and indie for most. The absence of fine tuned radio-edits was a refreshing change, we enjoyed a real showcase of musical expression and exploration instead. The dim-lit Mechanics Institute set the mood; slower, darker songs with deep personal meanings filled the first bracket. Almost like Apollo Bay’s way of saying it’s not just sunshine and rainbows here, we celebrate rain too. Coffee, tea and cake for the first session was replaced by a Mexican dinner and local beers for an evening party. Being a sell out, the venue was full. Four artists took to the stage to entertain… and entertain they did. The “Seagulls” were a stand out for us and “Sui Zhen” really knew how to get the crowd moving.
We got the impression that rain, hail or shine this event would have gone ahead. The message behind the event really resonated with us: Winter is not to be hidden from. Put on your rain coat, grab a brolly and get out there, the elements paint the Shipwreck Coast in a whole new light. Winter Wild and all its strange and unique festivities truly reshaped the way we see Apollo Bay as a destination.