Forty years in Ferntree Gully – Knox Festival 2020

Waterdrop bubble performers on stilts, designed to represent water. Photo by Barbara Oehring

This year – the best yet!

An estimated 20,000 people enjoyed the Knox Festival over the weekend 0f 29th February – 1st March. The organisers were thrilled to receive consistently positive feedback from all involved on all elements of the event management.

The site layout, the feel and look of the event was the best yet. The breadth and diversity of programming, free activities, arts play, sports, games, rides and food, and the high level of local partners involved, made this an outstanding weekend.

One resident commented to a member of Council staff that ‘You have captured the spirit and diversity of Knox tremendously’.

There are a number of videos on Knox Council’s Arts and Events Facebook page that show some of the performances and programs across the weekend.

Forty years of the Knox Festival

Forty years ago the annual Knox Crafts Festival moved from Bayswater to the newly opened Ferntree Gully Arts and Community Centre on its present site on Burwood Highway. The new venue was purpose-built for festivals. The Craft Festival was followed in October by a Knox garden festival which became the Stringybark Festival and later moved to Rowville.

History: enter Robert McMurray

In 1978 Knox Council appointed its first Arts Officer, Robert McMurray. One of his most successful projects was to launch the first annual Knox Craft Festival in the newly opened shopping centre at Bayswater.

An article in  The Age 19/10/82 ‘Knox mixes art with daily life’ reported that McMurray sees his role as ‘a catalyst for specific events or programmes by taking an idea and finding interested people to carry it through’ rather than doing the detailed work himself. This, he thinks, is one of the fundamentals of successful community participation as people then take responsibility for projects with pride and get satisfaction and enjoyment from organising it on their own.

McMurray’s approach is not about people being entertained by celebrities. Rather it offers opportunities to ‘learn to do something yourself, acquiring a new skill.’ This can  lead to whole new pathways. An annual festival acts as a stimulus to regular classes through the year and to the flourishing of existing arts and crafts societies.

Seven years on, in 1987 the then Mayor, Cr Marie Wallace wrote in a Knox celebratory festival history, ‘Since 1980 it would seem that the entire Knox population of over 100,000 has come to look forward to this event in early March … With its emphasis on the many community activities that take place … the Festival  focuses attention on Knox as being the leading municipality in public art appreciation and community participation.’

The leading theme

The 1986 Knox Festival was proud to receive the Environmental Event Award in the inaugural Federal Awards for Local Government.

Environment and conservation have continued to be a leading theme. The 8000 residents participating in that 1980s event led to people learning more about the local environment and conservation. Over the years sport has also been drawn into the festival with programs like the Oppy Bike Ride, and circus activities with Rucci’s Circus.

All this has enhanced  the vision of the founders of the Shire of Knox from its beginning in 1963. ‘Stretching from the foothills to the wetlands of the Dandenong Creek, far sighted planners and engineers have upheld the need to …  landscape the whole environment rather than separating individual buildings and features’, Town Clerk Tim Neville, reported in The Age 1982.

And finally

One could say that in creating a highly liveable city, combining the foothills of a mountain range with the paddocks and wetlands of creeks nearing the bay, the founders of Knox have shown an instinct for building unity. They have set high standards and encouraged a community participation that gives individuals an awareness of their own ‘personal best’.

Many of the early public artworks still adorn the buildings and parks of Knox. The Council’s recent report on arts and culture upholds this tradition. It now also works towards  giving the city’s many smaller local fairs and festivals a firm basis for continuity, for ownership of place and for further imaginative initiatives.

Anne Boyd

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