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Fremantle Festival essay

Julian Tompkin

A foghorn betrays the silence. There are things moving out there, beyond the roily black frontier. Living things. A ship pulls in, its souls hungry for wine and song. And another ship pulls out with its cargo and secrets bound tight, back to the immunity of the sea.

Such is the ordinance of a port city–a place of eternal transaction and ferment. A confluence of ideation and imagination. A reservoir of stories from both within and from the furthest known realms. For what are we but parables and potboilers? Civilisations rise and, without exception, civilisations crumble. And all we have left to pick over, amidst the hysterical gulls, are the ruins...ruins and, of course, stories. Stories both long and tall. Stories so pungent even the stubborn Freo Doctor couldn’t chase them to cure.

Fremantle is trussed together with such stories–a gritty epoxy, made up of one part limestone, two parts water, three parts ramblin’. It comes with the territory of being a frontier place at the extremities of land, water and imagination. Like Ptolemy’s Alexandria and Jonah’s Jaffa, Fremantle is–by default of this frontier status–a place where time begins and time ends. A city eternally betrothed to mystery and chimera–a pedigree that traces back to time immemorial. To Walyalup, the everlasting ganglion of song and ritual. Of lore and diffusion.

Gone are the days of searching out borrowed myths and second-hand applause–as those that came before. There is gold and bone dust enough strewn here amidst the sonorous streets to fuel an eternity of dreams–and songs plenty enough to rouse us from our reverie. For these streets wear their shadows like skin. Every pockmarked brick the bearer of a secret, every half-drawn curtain witness to an extraordinary tale. The old merchant manors groan heavy with knowing that our time is now.

Art, too, resides at life’s very frontiers–frantically searching out hairline cracks in the grandiose illusion. Panning for ultimate truths in that brackish creek of gold dust that eternally leads to no place in particular. Art dares to stare down the loaded barrel of a burning sun–the blinding utopian illusion, the perennial trick of the light–to remind us that salt stings, sun burns, silence deafens and ennui beseeches revolt.

And it’s here and now where we find ourselves, at a milepost in this narrative–a moment of reflection, revelry and re-imagination. It’s a thrilling proposition indeed, and fittingly the Fremantle Festival brings us to the cultural precipice with its most ambitious and germane program yet. We invite you to stay a while. To explore and consider. To holler and dance. But, more so, we invite you to join us here upon the spirituous communal stage that is Freo–and be a part of the story.

Julian Tompkin

Tickets on sale for Fremantle Festival 2016, view the full program here.