Regional Arts NSW
Skip to content

Drumming Up Community | Kalari Lachlan River Arts Festival

What are you doing for the River Arts Festival?

Article by Maryanne Jaques, Arts OutWest


A chorus of drummers, a building sound of percussion instruments, coloured paper lanterns lighting up the night and hundreds of people gathered on the banks of Lake Forbes. This will be the climax of the 2013 biennial Kalari Lachlan River Arts Festival in Forbes on Saturday October 26.

Two years in the making, this enormous local arts project was always designed as something more than ‘just another rural festival.’

“The 2011 Festival coincided with the end of a decade-long drought when most locals were pretty depressed. The Festival gave them something to celebrate and lifted the spirits of everyone who participated. So the mental health and wellbeing impacts were huge,” said co-founder of the festival, Merrill Findlay.

“People see their town differently now, and the arts are now well and truly on the public agenda in Forbes. Many locals are immensely proud of their Festival now, and of the achievements of regional performers, visual artists, yarn bombers, weavers. Some are even talking about Forbes becoming a creative industries hub!” Ms Findlay said.

The line plastered on posters around Forbes this year has been ‘What are you doing for the River Arts Festival?’ putting the onus of ownership and direction directly onto the local community. The 2013 event also aims to reach beyond Forbes with an ‘away day’ on Sunday October 27 where surrounding towns have been invited to add their own special activities.

At the public launch of the event in September, the wide range of community involvement in the project was clear. What was also evident was that the 2013 River Arts Festival, like the 2011 inaugural event, will be a real exploration of what is artistically possible in a regional community.

“We try to emphasise that everyone is creative and everyone can contribution creatively to the Festival. Our crafts people have truly taken this on board to become ‘yarn bombers’ and ‘guerrilla knitters’,” Merrill Findlay explains. “Toni Hanns, who works with Centacare, has been encouraging our senior citizens and others to get their needles clicking to decorate the Festival site, and even their wheelie walkers!”

Alongside local talent, a number of very high quality artists have been drafted in, including now Bathurst-based musician Rob Shannon, indigenous composer and musician David Page and composer, producer and musical director Peter Kennard. Kennard was raised in Forbes before finding an international career in theatre and music. He has returned to town as artist-in-residence this year where he has developed a troupe of drummers and percussion players who will star in both the Rhythm on Rankin street party on the Friday night (October 25) and the big Drumming Up Country performance at the end of Saturday’s lantern parade.

The festival boasts an enormous program of activity: from the inaugural Sir Francis Forbes Oration by Sydney barrister David Ash (Thursday October 24) to an opening night indigenous Welcome to Country event encompassing performance and stories of the Wiradjuri (sunset Friday October 25). Saturday October 26 is the main day, beginning early with a flotilla of human-powered vessels up Lake Forbes (including dragon boats) at 8.30am; and a lakeside exhibition space, a festival cinema, main stage of guest and local performers and festival lounge of music and visiting short plays, all running from 10.30am until dusk.

Over recent months, free workshops have been held in paper lantern making with scores of local families taking up the opportunity to make something to carry in the evening lantern parade (Saturday October 26, 8.30pm). These build on the collection of large animal themed lanterns made with renowned Lismore lantern maker Jyllie Jackson for the 2011 festival. Jyllie’s techniques were passed onto a keen team of locals, led by Ro Burns, who’ve in turn passed on the skills to anyone in Forbes willing to be involved.

As the glowing parade concludes on the Saturday night, Peter Kennard’s festival grand finale, Drumming Up Country, of drums, music and spectacle takes over. The entire ensemble of performers will be set up on the bridge across the Lachlan River, blasting out the extraordinary sounds Kennard has composed especially for the occasion.

“We are committed to commissioning new work and highlighting the talents of country people at the Festival.  Our commissioned work for 2011 was the Kate Kelly Song Cycle. This year it is Drumming Up Country,” Merrill Findlay said.

“The piece Peter has created for the finale evokes the history of the Lachlan River from pre-European times to the present with seductively beautiful and surprising melodies and motifs which, I’m certain, will delight both performers and listeners. Peter’s contribution to the Festival, and to Forbes cultural life, has been huge.”

From up on the bridge above the lake, these unique sounds will proclaim Forbes as a genuine community of culture and artistic innovation. Don’t miss it.

All the details: