Planet Woodfordia

The sun sets on Woodford (sadly, no photo catches the atmosphere of this festival!)


We arrived on Boxing Day and set up camp in a sultry heat that hardly lifted in our seven days at the Woodford Folk Festival.

It didn’t start out great–I got my bike stolen on the first day. Miraculously, it showed up the following day, locked to a different tree at a separate entrance! Lee found it. Amazing. And so the Woodford magic began . . .

But what is Woodford? Words fail as I try to explain this other-worldly experience. I’ll start at the end . . . There were 30,000 people camped on the hilly green fields outside the festival for a week, and at the end for that week, when we packed up and drove out (or, rather, sat in a long line of cars waiting to drive out) there was no rubbish left behind.

Uptown Brown playing hits from the 1920s

What is Woodford? Woodford is ten thousand tents, yoga and ukes, hundreds of bands, a fire choir, butterflies, face paint, body odour and bircher muesli. Woodford is strangers dancing together, volunteers smiling through their sweat. Woodford is music and love and learning, acrobats, jugglers, giant puppets and handmade lanterns.

Take tens of thousands of people of all ages who care about the planet and music and just generally getting on with one another, unleash them on a village built from a hundred types of creativity, from bamboo structures, to actors in character wandering around, giant puppets, hand-made lanterns, over a thousand musical groups and half a dozen circus acts. Put them together in a well-designed space with large tents and food stalls (oh, the food). Give it all over to 3,000 volunteers, and what happens in this magical mixture?

People get along—in the heat, in the rain, in the mud, in the crowds of happy Woodfordians.

As Randy, the purple puppet (off the ABC) said, there’s no “queue rage” at Woodford. You’re waiting in line to buy your samosa and the person in front turns to ask, “Are you having a good festival?”  

R, back getting into the Woodford spirit, back at our campsite
Children’s Festival


There was something for everyone. The girls had an entire Children’s Festival with countless crafts, circus arts, music, children’s shows, face-painting—everything was free except the food, which was cheap and healthy.

Another other-worldly aspect of Woodford was that, if you’re deaf, you can book your own interpreter for whatever you like. That’s right, whatever you want to see, you just text and the response is, “Your wish is our command.” When I asked if they were getting paid, I got a text back, “Of course, in butterflies and rainbows.”

K’s first concert ever was John Butler, interpreted. She loved it.

One hot afternoon we booked an interpreter and went, all four of us, to see a new young duo, “Hollow Coves”, who write about their restless love of travel. They seemed to be singing of our life on the road. To sit and experience music with my deaf daughter—with the whole family and no one missing out—was heavenly.

When I later told this to one of the volunteer interpreters she said, “That’s so great and so sad at the same time.” (Sad because this is the only place K can ever see whatever every other hearing person has full access to all the time.)

R loved the face-painting—hats off to the small army of volunteer women slaving away in the face-painting tent to produce unicorns and rainbow fairies on a steady stream of eager little faces.

I started the day with yoga, which I haven’t done in years. Picture this: a yoga instructor on stage conducting 100 bodies, moving us in sync from downward dog to plank, to cobra.

I heard talks by Bob Hawke, Tracey Spicer, Noel Pearson, a panel of young Muslims talking about their personal encounters with Islamaphobia, and a fascinating presentation on how the solution Australia’s unaffordable housing is to build posh boarding houses. Ian Ugarte told us that on any given night there are 12 million empty beds in Australia.

Lee loved the music, especially the band, 19-Twenty. Lee lived in the Blues Tent. Each night I took the girls home earlyish and Dad headed out for more music and beer.

Blues Caravan just outside the Blues Tent–a couple of Aussies who sing like they’re from Mississippi

One bonus to having a deaf kid at Woodford was that we got to sit close to the interpreter in the front row for the Welcoming Ceremony and the Fire Ceremony at the end. They went out with a massive show of music and interpretive dance depicting a sort of industrial society of violence and production that realized the error of its ways, burned all the spears and ended with a sea of dance and love. Ah, Woodford.

To leave Woodford was to depart from a planet of love, music, art and creativity. Odd to think that while we were away in that beautiful other place, real world leaders were bragging about how big their nuclear bomb button was.

We’re headed back to that real world, slowly. First a week at Minnie Water, NSW with friends, then back home (for now) to Sydney. How utterly lucky we are.

Fire Ceremony on the last night