Winter Solstice: Magical slices and 3 stoned sisters from the Katoomba mountain festival
After 18 years, Katoomba’s Winter Magic Festival has grown up. The state’s biggest, quirkiest (and perhaps maddest) arts community, nestled deep in the Blue Mountains, is ready to perform, busk, amaze and sprinkle dust on 50,000 revelers to celebrate its childlike adulthood.
This year, the magic arrives three days in advance as the Winter Solstice in the south (if you didn’t know) falls on June 21. The shortest day of the year. And while the northern hemisphere sizzles, Australia turns to white magic.
There will be magicians, musicians and fairies plus a score of ukuleles, funk, punk and folk bands.
The Blue Mountains closes its streets and parades its schizophrenia-cum-wizardry delights in a winter festival fit for both hippies and families. Various stages will accommodate 60 acts this Saturday –- and it’s free.
So charge the steam train, and drum roll, please, here’s a taste of the sights, delights and witchcraft to send you into winter nights.
Ruby Bloomers and the fashion police
While getting ready, remember that you’ve been warned. Ruby Bloomers and the Fashion police will be strutting their stuff along “art street” ensuring revelers are wearing pointed hats and clothes that glow with stars. Any urban trendsetters can expect a hard time and potentially black magic. The theatrical troupe will be marching along the street and everybody dressed casually is their potential prey.
Steam train into mountain magic
Getting there. While Cityrail will run extra services on the day, the 1926-built, number 3642 “Legend of Steam” train will depart Sydney at 8.30 a.m. Passengers can sit in old, depression-era built “red rattlers." . They just don’t make ‘em like they used to: polished cedar-timber and railway ornaments adorn the compartmentalized carriages. Expect the three-and-a-half hour journey to be a little slow as it ascends into the mountains (with views across the once uncrossable ranges on the way), but faster on the way down. For the less patient, a local Katoomba-Mount Victoria service will operate during the day.
Limited seats are available on the Sydney-Katoomba journey, while many tickets are available on the Katoomba-Mount Victoria day trip for $20/$10. www.heritageexpress.com.au
100 drummers following a street parade
Drumming troupes from around the mountain region will congregate behind a street parade of circus types, acrobats and actors who’ll march up the street with community groups. The 100 drummers will be a conglomerate of “King Parrot Bloco de Samba,” “Hands, Head and Feet” and other troupes. Javier Rodriguez, of the King Parrot collective, says they perform at private bush parties and festivals. “We get together for the love of music,” he says. And that’s magic.
Street festival begins at 11:30 a.m.
A trio of stoned sisters
The Three Sisters – Meehni, Wimlah and Gunnedoo – stand at over 900 meters tall. Dreamtime legend has it that the three sisters from the Katoomba tribe fell in love with three brothers from the Nepean tribe, but were forbidden to marry them by tribal law. A battle was organized and to protect them from harm a witch doctor turned the sisters into stone, planning to turn them back after the battle. But the witch doctor was killed, and the sisters remained stoned forever.
Other theories suggest a non-Aboriginal concocted this story a century ago, or that the soft sandstone was eroded over time by wind, rain and surrounding rivers in the Jamison Valley.
Whether it was magic or nature, it’s a breathtaking view from Echo Point.
Snake charmer Neville Burns and his death adders
“It’s not magic at all,” Neville Burns says of his snake handling. “There’s not a snake handler in the world that can handle a snake safely when they want to bite you.”
Neville’s been bitten a few times since he started handling snakes, aged eight. Problem is, he’s allergic to anti-venom, so he says he’s testing it at both ends.
Three shows during the festival at easy to remember times (1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.) outside the YHA will see Neville handle four of the deadly breed: black, brown, tiger and the dreaded death-adder. He says the snakes are likely to be charmed, as they don’t mind the cold.
The great busk-off
So you think you can busk? Scores of Sydney buskers will take on locals in the great busk-off at Civic Square. Uni-cyclists, jugglers, dancers, comics, buffoons and village jesters will have it out in front of a (hopefully) generous audience.
Registration at the Civic Centre steps between noon and
12:30 p.m. Busk-off at 3 p.m.
Art street and musical acts while you shop and dance
There will be some 250 stalls of food, art, local designs, hot chocolate crafts and chai to warm up to a day of mountain music. A festival-fuelled line-up of acts includes Em Fatale and the Scary Rabbits (with Craigus McRabbit on guitar) playing psychedelic folk and the trance-like folk of Dave Carr's Fabulous Contraption. Sideshow Annie brings her magical musicians, ukulele trio The Three Sisters, the storytelling Snow Queen and watch out for Cosmo the Clown.
Full festival details and program at www.wintermagic.com.au