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Port City Party

Art Adrift_Eva BoogaardAustralia’s longest running community festival stakes out a two week stretch of 2013 from Friday, October 25 until Sunday, November 10 with a program that encompasses over 100 different events, activities, displays and performances.

City Of Fremantle Coordinator Of Cultural Development, Alex Marshall, has a lot in common with the festival he’s helped midwife into existence. Like the fortnight-long riot of colour and entertainment, he’s diverse, multi-faceted and has been around for as long as memory serves.

“I’ve been involved in around the Fremantle Festival for probably around 20 years,” he tells us. “As a volunteer, as a performer, as an event holder, as a contractor and now, finally I suppose, as the Artistic Director. I’ve lived in Fremantle for many years and I was an arts practitioner myself so I’ve always been involved in the Festival myself.”

Marshall declines to give us the details of his performance background, but it does involve “… juggling and unicycling and acrobatics and all that sort of thing. I travelled all over Europe performing in festivals and so on, but I also have a strong background in community arts, working in country and regional areas. I’ve been in and around all this stuff for a long time.”

Which makes him a pretty perfect fit for the Fremantle Festival. Founded in 1906, the festival is a highlight of the Port City’s cultural calendar and easily one of the most eclectic festivals in the country, covering everything from music to film, fashion to food, high culture and lowbrow art, ancient traditions and innovative performances and everything in between.

“I think it’s because we live in an extraordinary community,” Marshall reflects. “That’d be the short answer. There are things from out of town but not many – most things, the artists performing at the festival and the events being put on are Freo people. It’s about the community and the whole community is in here.”

One of the oldest traditions that takes place during the festival is The Blessing Of The Fleet, a European custom first introduced to Fremantle in 1948 by migrant sailors. “ it’s a tradition that came from Italian and Slav migrants that made Fremantle their home in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s. It’s linked with the Catholic Church and the opening of  the fishing season. The priest comes down and all the boats go out into the harbour and the priest blesses all the boats as they come in. They have a big procession from the basilica opposite FTI where all the fishermen and their families march with their banners and they have fireworks and decorate all the boats – it’s quite a spectacle. And this year we’ve combined it with the seafood festival.”

As an emblem for the Fremantle Festival’s blending of old and new, you could hardly ask for anything better.

_ TRAVIS JOHNSON

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