Art on the Outskirts: Bendigo Festivals

A duo of major winter arts events arrive in Bendigo.

Whether it's sparkling prose or resplendent gowns that draw your attention, all that glitters is in Bendigo this month, as the regional town plays host to two major winter arts festivals and a tight calendar of more intimate events.

The Bendigo Writers Festival kicks off the blockbuster side of the equation, with a program that is a massive coup for the regional town. More than 150 local and international speakers will take the stage between August 9 to 11, destined to spark conversations on everything from poetry to politics to food to the future.

Among the headliners this year is internationally renowned philosopher AC Grayling, who will be sharing his insights on the concept of democracy alongside a panel that includes American-Mexican author Jennifer Clement, “The Monthly” contributing editor Richard Cooke, and award-winning historian Clare Wright.

Bendigo Writers Festival.

Participating in two separate sessions over the three-day festival is Kate Forsyth, recently voted one of Australia’s Favourite 15 Novelists. The master storyteller will pay visit to Bendigo’s Strategem Studio on the morning of Sunday August 11 for a session called “Romancing the Rose”, talking about her new novel and unpacking the romance and magic that is central to her work. Later that day, she will also take part in “Mining the Past”, in which the historical research process will be discussed alongside authors Kelly Gardiner and Ilka Tampke.

For those who get restless, the writers festival program contains a number of more immersive events, many of which centre around history and culture that is unique to the region. At present, the City of Greater Bendigo is undertaking a bid to become a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, and one of the regional traits that Bendigo Writers Festival is spotlighting this year is its culinary riches.

On Sunday August 11, two of Australia’s most revered food writers and critics, Terry Durack and Jill Dupleix, will come together at Bendigo Bowls Club for the “Gastronomy Breakfast”. While guests enjoy a breakfast prepared by Bendigo’s star food duo, Nick and Sonia Anthony from Masons of Bendigo, Durack and Dupleix will talk with hospitality consultant Kath Bolitho about the life of a food critic and share insights on the recipe for a great restaurant.

After the Bendigo Writers Festival wraps up for 2019, all eyes turn to Bendigo Art Gallery, as they launch their much-anticipated major winter exhibition, “Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion”, a comprehensive retrospective on the career of fashion icon and couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga. Referred to as “The Master” by contemporaries such as Coco Chanel and Christian Dior, the garments Balenciaga produced throughout his time as head of the eponymous fashion house changed the course of modern fashion design. In particular, the designer is known for revolutionising the female silhouette through exquisite structural tailoring, pioneering use of fabrics and dramatic application of colour and texture.

Dovima with Sacha, cloche and suit by Balenciaga, Café des Deux Magots, Paris, 1955. © The Richard Avedon Foundation.

More than 100 of Balenciaga’s most iconic garments and hats have been procured for the exhibition, which will run from August 17. Most of these were created in the period of the 1950s to 1960s—arguably the most creative of the designer’s career. Also on display will be designs from protégés and contemporaries of Balenciaga, hammering home just how influential his legacy was and continues to be on the world of international fashion.

Part of what pushes the “Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion” exhibition beyond the standard is that it moves past voyeurism to invite visitors into the behind-the-scenes creation of the work. In addition to archival materials such as original sketches, patterns and fabric samples—all of which provide a clear insight into the world of Balenciaga’s salons and workrooms—Bendigo Art Gallery has worked with esoteric experts such as X-ray artist Nick Veasey to conduct forensic investigations into the garments. Using new technologies, the exhibition is able to shed light on the hidden details and processes that made Balenciaga’s work so exceptional.

Bendigo Yarn Bomb Tram.

Outside of these landmark events, the City of Bendigo itself is worth the roughly two-hour drive from Melbourne. The historic town is a living snapshot of a colonial history, complete with architecture and infrastructure that speaks to the charm of a bygone era. Throughout the season, tangible elements from this history are on display for visitors, such as the Bendigo Tramways 302 tram. One of the city’s original trams, the vehicle has become a tourist attraction for the fact that it was the first tram in the world to be “yarn-bombed”: covered inside and out with colourful patches of crocheted yarn. Every winter, the tram is put back on the streets of Bendigo, lighting up the streets as a plush rainbow in motion—a true sight to behold.