A unique gathering of Australian artists in the small town of Divonne les Bains, France, are entertaining an international crowd for three days of theatre, dance, art, music, poetry and prose.
There is nothing out of the ordinary about a group of artists getting together to stimulate, captivate and inspire. The fact that they are Australian artists hanging out in eastern France high in the Jura mountains is perhaps a little unusual.
The 2012 program is a rich and varied one. Some of the works have been created specifically for the festival such as the play Ici by Rebecca Lister while others were inspired by the festival such as Amaara Raheem's performance based on the finding of a native Australian shield by Captain Cook in 1770. Live music, philosophical discussions, films, literature and poetry are all presented by Australian composers, authors and academics. Sports, like cricket and football, as well as workshops, such as learning to play the didgeridoo, ensure audience participation whilst Australian cuisine, wines and beers are sure to attract a crowd.
The Australia Arts Festival, now in its second year, is the creation of homesick ex-pat, Bronwyn Lay, who moved to the village of Vesancy with her husband Nico Clark and their four children five years ago. Why an arts festival? Homesickness and frustration at the incapacity to explain what home was to my new friends and to the new culture I was in. In France, there is this idealization of Australia and its the land of wide open dreams, wide open spaces, and constant possibilities, which it is, but there is not really a tangible understanding of what the place is.
It was a very spontaneous beginning. I didn't set out to run a festival. I was homesick and I wanted to show some films in the basement. There were a couple of really good Australian films out that year. The cinema night progressed to a story-telling night, then a dinner. A family day of cricket and football and Grand Final breakfast in the Vesancy Chateau completed a week of activities, which comprised the inaugural festival in 2010.
A committee of ten were involved in the organization of the festival
We swore we weren't going to do it again. It was too much work. And then, Esplanade du Lac (in Divonne) approached us and asked us if we would like to be partners in 2012 to do the same thing we were doing. So we got the invitation to do it again. It's all been pushed by the generosity of others.
When asked what was so special about Australian culture, Bronwyn replied, Every culture is special, I find. Australian culture has a freedom, an openness; and a naivety and there are downsides to that ; and a playfulness that Europe could learn from and that Europe loves. There could be an exchange across this because Europe has a formal thinking and a discipline that we don't.
Author Campbell Jeffreys on What is Australia?
Divonne les Bains seems an unlikely place for Australians to gather, though its location close to Geneva airport means getting to the venue is easy and the area is favored by ex-pats working in international organizations in Geneva.
Bronwyn Lay and Guillame Hauer
There was nothing strategic or conscious about the venue. I was homesick and I lived in Vesancy. But there is something nice about being out of the city - being stuck together and in living the same circumstances and away from your own culture and your own country so you have to focus on each other and you can't be distracted so it has created a really nice atmosphere.
And the goal of the festival? To make people think. Whether it comes through a fun conversation , or seeing art or watching football. To think and feel like there are possibilities.