You might know Queenscliff as arts central for its long-running annual Music Festival, its Literary Festival, and its Lighthouse Film Festival (if you didn’t – now you do). Well, arts, film and music fans: your winter just got a little brighter!
The inaugural Low Light Festival in Queenscliff is the newest addition to this artistic community’s calendar, and it has a seriously substantial line-up.
Headline acts include the exclusive Australian premieres of three new Icelandic films, including Matthew Barney’s latest work: Union of the North, created with Erna Ómarsdóttir and Valdimar Jóhannsson, and Dies Irae, by visual artist by Gabríella Friðriksdóttir in collaboration with Erna Ómasdóttir and Valdimar Jóhannsson. Dies Irae will be experienced at Low Light as 14-minute individual, immersive experiences presented by the local Queenscliff Lighthouse Arts Collective.
And then there’s ÖRÆVI – Life in the Undergrowth, by Valdimar Jóhannsson, Pierre Alain Giraud and Erna Ómarsdóttir with the Icelandic Dance Company. It’s a spectacular light installation, featuring an original soundtrack by Sigur Rós, that will be projected onto the exterior walls of Fort Queenscliff every Friday and Saturday night during the festival.
Why all the Iceland references, you may well ask? Because it’s cold! And this is a winter festival, a celebration of cold and comfort, in equal measures. Well, maybe a little more towards the comfort side of things – local venues are on board with whiskey and gin tastings and talks, Blues Train events (no train this time but free Sunday Sessions from favourite musicians), art exhibitions and workshops, literary events, and musical talents including All Our Exes Live in Texas, Z-Star Trinity, Teeny Tiny Stevies, Fraser A Gorman and Justin Towns Earle.
Local gourmet food producers and restaurants are also in on the act, with events including a progressive, four-location dinner; a Bastille Dinner accompanied by a French musical act; a degustation dinner featuring a battle between the wines of Bellarine and Bordeaux; and High Tea on the Sea – a two-hour high tea aboard the ferry (keep your eyes peeled for dolphins).
On the gourmet front there’s also a Private Dining Room secret dinner with local star chefs Tobin Kent (La Bimba, Brae, Dunkeld’s Royal Mail Hotel, Gladioli) and Dane Robinson (The Hot Chicken Project, Gladioli). The location of this event might remain a mystery until the very last moment, but it’s no secret that the menu will focus on local produce – particularly seafood.
‘We really wanted opportunities for people to go inside and eat hearty food, and drink red wine and do all that – but we also wanted people to go outside, to get cold and feel winter,’ says Low Light Festival director Bonnie Dalton.
‘People can rug up to watch the light installation, ÖRÆVI, with its incredible music, and then they can go inside for a gorgeous meal and a glass of red, knowing they have really earned their place by the fire!’
It’s a packed program – one that’s still growing. Bonnie makes no excuses for that, because she says it’s a reflection of the Queenscliff community itself: vibrant, creative and spontaneous.
‘We did reach a point where we had to press ‘print’ on a program – but there are still ideas evolving and there will be more events added to the site in the lead-up to the festival,’ Bonnie says. ‘But that’s just part of it – there will be an element of surprise, for people to just come along and find out what’s happening when they get here.’
Bonnie says she can see why Queenscliff is so well loved. The seaside town is beautiful, with two lighthouses (the Low Light, and the High Light), boutique shopping, colonial architecture, and the impressive Fort Queenscliff, which was built in 1860 to defend Port Phillip Bay from attack. Then there’s the gentle bathing beach, the catch-of-the-day sold straight from the pier, the educational Maritime Museum, and the abundant wildlife.
‘The first time I came here I walked down the pier and found myself face-to-face with a young seal,’ she says. ‘That just blew me away. An hour-and-a-half earlier I had been sitting at my desk in the city, and now here I was hanging out with a seal.’
Locals say the winter is the best time to see the seals, and dolphin sightings from the ferries are not uncommon. There have been recent whale sightings at Queenscliff, too. You’ll need to be quick if you want to make a weekend of it, though – Bonnie reports that accommodation is booking out quickly.
‘I went on Airbnb to book a house for a friend and it said that bookings were up 90% on this time last year!’ she says. ‘Or there are beautiful old venues like the Vue Grand and Athelstane House that are absolutely gorgeous places to stay.’
What: Low Light Festival
Where: Various venues, Queenscliff
When: 22-–4 June | 29 June–1 July | 6–8 July | 13–15 July
More information here: www.lowlightqueenscliff.com.au