Geelong stakes its claim as an arts destination

With art in unusual places, plans for a green corridor, and continuing tradition in a contemporary songline, there are many reasons why Geelong is coming into its own in 2016.
Geelong stakes its claim as an arts destination

LED Hoops by HoopFusion at Geelong After Dark 2014; Photo by Sam Neumann.

Geelong has a strong industrial past but it is set to have an even stronger future as a creative city.

‘We are developing a culture that gives artists the opportunity to challenge themselves, with the inspiration point of extreme arts,’ said Kaz Paton, Manager of Arts and Culture, City of Greater Geelong.

With the opening of the contemporary Geelong Library and Heritage Centre last year, the progress of GPAC and plans to redevelop Geelong Gallery, the town appears to be going through an arts regeneration.


But it is initiatives like Geelong’s extreme arts walk, Mountain to Mouth and the pop up night of arts, Geelong After Dark, that are bringing both residents and visitors out to experience the region.

‘The city itself is going through an exciting transformation. We have had a very strong industrial past, but equally there is also acknowledgement now that we need to find other pathways forward.’

‘Underlying all of this is authenticity. It is about who we are and our unique place. We have a really long term vision for Mountain to Mouth, we hope it is literally hundreds of years.’

The longevity of this vision is exemplified by the ‘green’ focus, with plans for the city to activate itself with rooftop and vertical gardens and a new green corridor of carefully selected Indigenous species that will be planted along the route of Mountain to Mouth. In years to come, people will walk Mountain to Mouth through this green corridor which will include the city centre, industrial zones, and even suburban zones.

By creating something visitors and locals won’t be able to get anywhere else, Geelong is on its way to becoming an arts destination.

Mountain to Mouth

Mountain to Mouth is an 80km walk that takes place over two days and 11 stages. Participants walk from the granite peaks of the You Yangs, and through Geelong’s industrial heartland at nightfall before reaching the city just in time for Geelong After Dark – Central Geelong’s pop up night of arts.

The walk continues the next day along the banks of the Barwon River, through rolling Bellarine farmland, along ocean beach, and then arrives at the river mouth at Barwon Heads by sunset.

Mountain to Mouth 2014; Photo by Anne Buckley.

‘The walk starts right beside a rock well that has been ground into the rock for thousands of years and kept fresh water for people who walked the traditional songline through there,’ said Meme McDonald, Artistic Director of Mountain to Mouth.

‘We take that water and we walk eighty kilometres through twelve locations we identified in the first walk in 2014 and then we return that water to the river mouth at Barwon Heads – again, a very significant site for thousands of years.’

The extreme arts walk builds from a deep and long lasting tradition of walking across country and using song and story to navigate to create a contemporary songline. Participants get to choose a distance, and choose a challenge.

Gathering of the Elders Ceremony, Mountain to Mouth 2014; Photo by Anne Buckley.

‘We are very grateful for the guidance we have received from the elders of the Wathaurong in allowing us to contemplate and understand what a contemporary songline might be and to build on a tradition that we are walking. Those elders are very generous in sharing their knowledge,’ said McDonald.

Papua New Guinean artist Leonard Tebegetu and Australian artist Mahony Maia Kiely have been commissioned to create the artwork, Canoe. Along the songline, people will encounter other artworks and performances by local and Indigenous artists, with three major ceremonies and twelve ‘walking circle’ arts installations planned.

‘It’s a drawing together. I think that is what a contemporary songline does – it allows all these different artworks to sit along this spine of the songline. There are no limits to the kind of work we can express along the way,’ said McDonald.

McDonald sees Mountain to Mouth as a significant event. ‘I think it is actually creating a context in which contemporary Australian art can have relevance to the landscape in which it exists.’

In the industrial area, an artist is exploring the concept of ‘Pop Archaeology’ to suggest how we are now creating our own archaeology for future generations.

‘What we lay down now, what we cast aside in our tips (like plastic), is going to be there for thousands of years. What does that tell about our lives when it is dug up years later?’

‘If you take these art projects and extend them and repeat them, imagine what it could become in not only ten years, but in thirty or fifty years, we would be creating something that might be a destination for people to come to from many other parts of the world. But we need to keep it really specific to this landscape and the people who live here. If we make it just a general festival it would be lesser.’

‘Mountain to Mouth is something that, like Geelong After Dark, draws on the amazing capacity of artists here and builds their capacity to express and provoke and interpret local places,’ said Paton.

To register for any or all of the walk stages: you can visit

Facebook/Twitter: @mountaintomouth
Instagram: @mtomgeelong #mtomgeelong

Geelong After Dark

Now in its third year, Geelong After Dark (held 6 May, 6-10pm) will bring over sixty artists and groups to the streets of Geelong and visitors can spend Friday night discovering innovative works of art in unusual places.

Creative Producer Luisa La Fornara told ArtsHub that this year, ‘we are doing things we haven’t done before.’


Geelong After Dark 2014; Photo by Sam Neumann.

The program is diverse. Projection art led by Matt Bonner and some of the region’s own talented projection artists will light up the city’s buildings, while interactive duo known as Brand Me Baby will  roam the streets in skin-toned body suits, enticing passers-by to ‘brand’ their bodies with badges of pixelated logos – a comment on our own contemporary commodity culture.

Other highlights include an interactive, immersive sound installation caravan called “Blood. Sex. Tears”, a ghostly installation of rare and endangered Australian plants by Karen Richards called Flora Non Evidens; Back to Back Theatre’s The Democratic Set, a rapid series of short live performances and screen-based video portraits; and an ABC RN radio cabaret show about one of Geelong’s most legendary musicians, Stardust: The Col Brain Story, told by broadcaster & musician, Joel Carnegie.  

The night setting heightens sensation, making the most of works that build from a sensory relationship with the audience through adaptive use of sound, light and touch.

‘One of my favourite performances is activating the women’s toilet area. A pop-up internationally renowned soprano and another incredible performer will be located around there and because the acoustics are so incredible you’ll get this beautiful sound travelling all along the main street,’ said La Fornara.

When wandering through the city after dark, you could also stumble across the site of Submersion (Bubble Nucleation) by Jasmine Pilcher set in a large shipping container. This immersive work has a surprising ability. ‘You walk through the space and actually feel like you’re walking underwater,’ said La Fornara.

For those who prefer a planned itinerary, La Fornara and her team have curated experiences alongside the ‘free to roam’ model, La Fornara and her team allow audiences to follow a particular format if they wish. People can choose between “Program Highlights”, “Music and Theatre”, “Multimedia and Visual Arts”, “Interactivity” or “Family Friendly”. There’s also a kids treasure hunt, where kids get the chance to roam the city streets, collecting clues to win prizes.

‘It’s about discovery. You’ll see the city centre in a whole new way, through the interpretation of artists and the way the art leads you around the city,’ said Paton.


Brooke Boland

Thursday 28 April, 2016

About the author

Brooke Boland is a freelance writer based on the South Coast of NSW. She has a PhD in literature from the University of NSW. You can find her on Instagram @southcoastwriter.