WALLANGRA’s debut festival blew all expectations from the water on Friday and Saturday. The community, children from small schools across the region and a collection of speakers and performers came together to put on the Wallangra Festival in an effort to pump new life into the small hamlets around the region.
“It felt like everyone’s veins were injected with liquid gold,” said event co-founder Helen McCosker.
The festival has now been declared inaugural, with all organisers and participants firmly committed to making this happen next year.
The festival took seed with Wallangra residents Helen and Mike McCosker. They were able to secure a private Foundation for Regional and Remote Renewal grant from the Yulgilbar Foundation for $50,000.
The money was used to transform the Wallangra Hall into a fresh performance venue, triggered a series of art and music workshops, host a TED talk series and put on a concert of talent Inverell’s Jenny Fox declared was of “international standard”.
It allowed music, art and words, ideas of regeneration and creativity to be shared by and to all ages.
Helen said from the art roadshows, music workshops, the TED talks, and the concert, the momentum achieved exceeded all hopes.
“Absolutely and more,” she said.
“And the thing that we really need to focus now on, is to know, that as a community, this can keep going. We can actually make this festival something lasting, and we will.”
On Friday afternoon, Wallangra Hall was the site of the student music Not Quite Baroque workshops. In nearby Graman, the Not Quite TED Talks attracted about 35 people from around the district to the Graman Hall, where eight speakers presented a range of topics.
The conversations included soil regeneration and biology with Mike McCosker and Tony Lovell, the value of our bush with Alex Dudley, addressing farmer suicide by Meg Perceval, making a centre of joy and creativity in Coolatai with Three Sisters Eco Farm co-founder Kelly Jones, celebrating the cow as a pasture sustainability machine with Judy Earl, arts as a key to healthy communities with Phoebe Maroulis and inspiring a vision for our future on the land and in our world with Dr Anna Carr.
The afternoon was emceed by well-known speaker Robyn Moore, who buoyed the crowd up with her insight, anecdotes on life, encouragement and occasional lapses into voice artistry, her career for over 40 years.
Saturday’s concert was the hall-filler. Over 250 people had booked for the event, and Wallangra Hall may not have seen such a crowd in many years.
The night began with children from very small schools from Yetman to Gravesend singing two pieces they had rehearsed in school, then as a group with award-winning teacher Carol Parker. Their second song I Am The Earth drew a wall of applause from the hall.
The place stayed packed until 11pm with hoots, cries, clapping, foot stomping and cheers. The line up that included now-international performers The Mae Trio and Moree’s own Billy Pitt, virtuoso musicians guitarists Stephen Thorneycroft, Stephen Tafra and fiddler Kerry Watson, home-grown girl Megan Longhurst, and local talents Ella and Ken Cheal, Ashleigh Campbell, Maggie Thomas, Nicolette Grabham, Frank, Geoff and Charoltte McCosker, Bernie Killen and Kim Guest.
Nobody seemed to want the night to end.
Helen felt the community had been energized and encouraged pursuit of events to re-invigorate people.
“They just need to come together and really work out a real plan, and real way of pushing their community to a point that there needs to be changed, and it needs to happen,” she said.
“And it can be done; it’s all possible. And we did it. It’s amazing. And we’ll keep doing it.”