History and Background to Mountain to Mouth

Mountain to Mount had its genesis at least ten years ago. In around 2002, the City of Greater Geelong (amalgamated from 6 municipalities around Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula by the Kennett Liberal Government in 1993)recognised the need for a specific department of Arts and Culture. Kaz Paton was appointed coordinator, and later manager. This fledgling department took over responsibility for the Potato Shed, the Wool Museum, and Heritage Centre and funding for the Gallery and libraries. When interviewed, Kaz Paton added, ” We also felt that we really needed to demonstrate to the organisation and to our councillors, the power of the art.” [1]

At this time, Geelong, along with other municipalities around Australia, was invited by The Cultural Development Network to take part in a program called Generations.[2] Generations provided funding and support for municipalities to address needs within their communities through the arts. “It was a project see how the arts could impact on key big issues in communities. “[3] At that time, as now, Geelong was going through a process of rapid change. It was decided to produce an event with the aim of uniting the community with a sense of pride and common purpose. The title Connecting Identities was coined, and Meme McDonald appointed Artistic Director. Meme devised the first Mouth to Mountains project, which, in 2009, ran as a relay bringing water from the mouth of the Barwon River up to the You Yangs.[4]   There were many legs on the relay, and twelve participants in each stage. The mode of transport varied from kayaks to horses, to parents pushing prams, to story tellers travelling by train, to cyclists, Ford vintage cars, and artists. At each change-over place, there were festivities (for example at Johnstone Park, the mayor abseiled from the roof of City Hall).

CoGG Mayor abseiling from City Hall, MtoM 1009.  Photo from MtoM website, http://www.geelongaustralia.com.au/connectingidentities/mouthtomountain/

CoGG Mayor abseiling from City Hall, MtoM 1009. Photo from MtoM website, http://www.geelongaustralia.com.au/connectingidentities/mouthtomountain/

At Big Rock, there was a ceremony, and, with the falling of night, an open air concert where community groups and artists performed music written specifically for the event.[5]

Big Rock final ceremony 2009 MtoM Photo from MtoM website http://www.geelongaustralia.com.au/connectingidentities/mouthtomountain/

Big Rock final ceremony 2009 MtoM Photo from MtoM website http://www.geelongaustralia.com.au/connectingidentities/mouthtomountain/

The feedback from this first MtoM was immense. In particular, those who attended or participated asked for an event in which they, themselves could participate more fully.

With the Generations program wound up, there was no new outside funding to provide a second cultural event. What seemed a very modest allocation was made in the 2013 to 2014 city budget and Meme McDonald was once again invited to be Artistic Director. A production team was formed. This included representatives from two key community groups partners, Karingal[6], a charity organisation, who would oversee the registration process, and Diversitat[7] (a multi-cultural organisation with experience in running large scale community events) who developed Geelong After Dark. Geelong After Dark is a multi-site arts pop-up festival of projections, music, performance and visual arts around the central business district on the first night of M~M. Deakin University was also a partner, providing research on the success, or otherwise, of the event, academics as canoe carriers, and student participation producing art work for Geelong After Dark and interns to work on the project itself.

With very little funding, and little support from the local print media, promotion went ‘underground’ – subversive in a similar way to the subversiveness of the ephemeral nature of the art of Dada in the early twentieth century.[8] The city and Diversitat developed Facebook sites for M~M and Geelong After Dark, and these became vital promotion and information tools as the event neared.

Twelve months before the event, local artists were invited to express interest in working to produce art works and to manage the twelve static sites which would become the ‘walking circles’. These were arts sites – ceremony sites at the beginning and end of the marathon walk, and ten other resting places, where the walkers would pause to walk an especially designed labyrinth and partake of the works of local artists and community groups. The walkers walked into the labyrinth to some special feature in the centre and then out again, to continue on their pilgrimage to Barwon Heads. Each of the site coordinators sought community involvement to produce the walking circle installations, and to provide services (like food) for the walkers. For example, the third circle at Moorpanyul Park in North Shore was managed by local resident and artist Esther Konings-Oakes. Esther worked at schools, community events and with local groups (like the Yarn Bombers Group), to produce hundreds of fish lanterns, illuminated hyperbolic crotched sculpture, and porcelain oyster shells for the nocturnal walking circle. A local neighbourhood house, which has a training cafe, provided a food tent.[9]

This community involvement prior to the event was the case for most of the sites. In all, thousands of members of the community contributed.[10]

Ben Gilbert, a sculptor, was commissioned to produce “Canoe”, a symbolic boat on wheels, which led the walkers’ procession as they travelled the eighty-four kilometres from Big Rock to Barwon Heads.

140511 m~m_0667acr editwebFigure 1 Canoe, carried by CFA members, begins the long journey from Big Rock to Barwon Heads

Another artist, Kathryn Williams, who works in textiles, designed and made twelve silk flags (one for each council ward).

140511 m~m_0675acr editwebFigure 2 Flag ambassadors lead the procession near theYou Yangs Visitors’ Centre

These flags were carried by community ambassadors, selected by the twelve ward councillors. Behind Canoe and the flag bearers, registered participants walked. Some walked the entire eighty-four kilometres. Others only walked one or two sections. All the proceeds of the modest participation fee went to support Karingal’s work revegetating the environment.   [11]

[1] Kaz Paton, Interviewed by Helen Lyth, 2nd July, 2014, Helen’s Journey (private online blog)https://walktowater2014.wordpress.com/interview-with-kaz-paton/

[2]Cultural Development Network, The Generations Project, n.d., retrieved 12 July, 2014, http://www.culturaldevelopment.net.au/projects/generations-2/

[3] Meme McDonald, Interviewed by Helen Lyth, May 28th, 2014, Helen’s Journey (private online blog), https://walktowater2014.wordpress.com/interview-with-meme-mcdonald-artistic-director/

[4] More information, Connecting Identities website http://www.geelongaustralia.com.au/connectingidentities/about.html

[5] I was lucky enough to be a participant – organiser and leader of the bike leg, and, as secretary of the Geelong Chorale, a convenor and participant in the final concert.

[6] More information about Karingal at http://www.karingal.org.au/

[7] More information about Diversitat at http://www.diversitat.org.au/

[8] Purpura, Allyson , ‘Framing the Ephemeral’, Introduction to a special issue: Ephemeral Arts I, African Arts 42 (3), (2009) 11-15.

[9] Esther Konings-Oakes, Interviewed by Helen Lyth, July 3rd, 2014, Helen’s Journey (private online blog), https://walktowater2014.wordpress.com/esther-konings-oakes-district-coordinator/

[10] According to current figures from CoGG, which are not yet complete, 1760 volunteers worked prior to the event and on the days of it.

Duncan Esler, M~M participation statistics, final M~M Production Meeting, Friday, July 4th, Appendix 1.

[11] Duncan Esler, Interviewed by Helen Lyth, 18th June, 2014, retrieved July 17th, 2014 https://walktowater2014.wordpress.com/interview-with-duncan-esler-production-manager/


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