Laurie Axtens - Call of the Loon

Nestled into the rolling hills near the conical Glasshouse Mountains lies a tent and car city called the Woodford Folk Festival. Woodford is the largest folk festival in Australia and after many years of ignoring the regular Youd love it from my workmates, I finally undertook a mission to research sporting acumen amongst the 40,000 revellers at the legendary event.

Thanks to Tonto, my young guide, our campsite was not only impeccably appointed with late-morning-sleep-in-shade but it was on flat ground and a short walk from the showers. Furthermore, our amazing encampment was devoid of neighbours and yet only 30 yards from our major haunt the Retox Centre. Tonto good; I give her many beads.

The Retox Centre was like a clubhouse where tea, drinks and massage were available for the determined folk sportsmen and women. Apparently most of the Retoxifiers were comedians, but I had barely made it through the camouflaged entrance into the den of disrepute before the sledging commenced. It was beautiful, I loved it: brutal but considering all the lip-service to co-operation, inclusion and universal love going on, it was magical to have somewhere for people to bare their teeth and embrace the shadowy, competitive spirit lurking behind the dumb, smiling mask. So the spirit of competition was among them: I ticked that off on my clipboard.

As the sun sank away and the young guide led me deeper into the bright, burlesque festival I was filled with the growing suspicion that I was actually in a Hermann Hesse novel. I pinched my arm just to check, while around me the pulsating, nubile crowd surged from dance workshop to circus show to the massive amphitheatre. The noise (music) was incessant, except for three minutes at 11.30pm on New Years Eve when everyone and everything (except the mobile phones) maintained a three minute silence. It was special; I wanted it to last for a couple of hours so I could get some sleep, but that was never going to happen.

But I digress. In short, the constant drumming and hub-bub sounded exactly like a stadium in Delhi. I ticked the sporting atmosphere box and felt that somewhere, hidden under the hectares of canvas and nylon, sport must exist in all its glory. But that first night, my searching was in vain. We returned to the Retox Centre to clear our heads. Although this failed, I did witness a game of backgammon. An intense calm swept through me as I watched the highly experienced dice-masters battle for supremacy. The decider came and went with the toffy-nosed raconteur finding a double on his last throw to snatch an unbelievable win. The vanquished Dwarf stiffened and vehemently proclaimed: That was shit and This is a stupid game and he would Never play again. I ticked another box.

The scent of sport was heavy in the air the next day and it wasnt long till I sniffed out the action. The festival organisers had in their infinite wisdom kept one central flat(tish), grassy area empty of tents and named it The Woodford Village Green. And of course where there is a village green, there is cricket.

So there on the tiny postage-stamp field a full retinue of flannelled fools pranced and hugged and appealed in front of a crowd of hundreds. It was appallingly good. I gave the festival a big tick and took up the wicket-keeping gloves immediately.

Although there were many spectacular expressions of the gentlemans game, all replayed in slow motion with the use of a ball on a long black stick, surely the most memorable moment was when George Negus took guard amidst the chanting of his name.

Everyone brings something away from Woodford. I came away with my faith restored that all culture revolves around sport plus second degree burns to a third of my body and a black eye.

Everyone else got a pair of Thai fishermens pants.

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