Post-Christmas, the hills of the Snowy Valleys will come alive with the sound of music, art, light, laughter, celebration and celebrity as the highly anticipated Arbour Festival gets underway.
Beginning on 28 December – exactly one year after the Dunns Road Fire wrought 50 days of havoc across the region – the festival will begin its own 50-day run, not only commemorating the anniversary of the bushfires, but growing new possibilities as the community commences a new year beyond the fire that changed everything.
The event is to be held at Pilot Hill Arboretum, which lies within the Bago State Forest near Tumut, Tumbarumba and Batlow, and is a miraculous survivor of the Black Summer’s annihilating bushfires.
Visitors will be able to experience ephemeral installation artworks in a variety of traditional and contemporary mediums from artists including Robyn Sweeney, Sulari Genrill, Juju Roche, Andras Buisman, Helen Newman and Marlene Pearce.
Exhibitions featuring works from local artists will also run at venues in Tumut, Tumbarumba and Batlow.
A curated series of workshops will allow participants to learn about a range of crafts and skills including Aboriginal weaving and tools, felt-making, pyrography, nature photography and recording their family history.
Additionally, Tumbarumba’s Woodland Film Festival will break its four-year hiatus to return for Arbour Festival on 30 January and, for the first time in its history, will fulfil its original vision of producing the festival in the true forest setting it was inspired by.
Judges are currently sifting through around 100 international entries which have been received for the short-film section of the festival.
They will screen, along with featured film, Sweet Tooth, in a natural cinema of stately trunks, their dark green canopies soaring above a noiseless carpet of pine needles.
Narrated by Cate Blanchett and set in a fictional European town in 1780, Sweet Tooth is the untold story of the wicked witch and her infamous gingerbread house.
It was also the last film to be made at the popular Sugar Pine Walk, at nearby Laurel Hill, which was torn down this year due to extensive damage from the fires.
The Arbour Festival finale, on 13 February, will be an outdoor concert led by Tooma local and ARIA Award winner Fanny Lumsden, backed by a swag of regional talent including William Crighton, Montgomery Church and Rory Phillips.
The concert will also feature exhilarating performances from the Flying Fruit Fly Circus.
Curator Vanessa Keenan said Arbour Festival would give local communities the opportunity to acknowledge what has happened, celebrate what has been achieved and look forward to what’s yet to come.
“It includes a program of events and activities hosted by local artists and makers, most directly impacted by the fires, that will introduce participants to a new hobby, rekindle an old interest or merely act as a distraction in what is an anxious season for so many,” she said.
Eastern Riverina Arts is behind the event, which runs from 28 December to 15 February.
Eastern Riverina Arts executive director Tim Kurylowicz said he believes what really stands out about the Arbour Festival programming is just how many talented artists and makers there are in the Snowy Valleys region.
“So many of them have been willing to share their expertise and knowledge with their community through workshops, exhibitions and experiences,” he said. “It’s a good time to take stock and really celebrate the people who we have right here in our own backyard.”
Tickets are on sale now and the full program can be found on the Arbour Festival website.