Kaurna Dawn Ceremony
Custodians of the Kaurna Nation @ Tarntantangga / Victoria Square
6:15pm, Fri 7 Feb 2014
After all these years, I’m still learning something new about the lesser-known machinations of the Fringe: apparently, every Fringe for the last seven years is kicked off with a Dawn Ceremony, one week before the official opening night. Initially a quiet event for Fringe staff (and – presumably – sponsors) only, this year it was opened to the public, and mentioned in the Fringe Guide; I spotted it, and figured it was a good way to kick off my own little campaign.
One problem, though: it was a Dawn Ceremony. So it took place at, like, dawn.
And that’s pretty early in the morning, as it turns out.
Still, I’m all for adversity if it’s going to result in An Experience, so I dragged myself from bed to the northern corner of Tarntantangga at about 6:05am. A large circle of people, two deep in parts, surrounded a small fire around which four custodians of the Kaurna Nation were wandering; Karl Telfer, the elder amongst them (though hardly in middle age himself) was explaining some of the symbolism to the assembled crowd.
As I took my place in the circle, a friendly and familiar face in a Fringe staff t-shirt (who I always see running around during the season, but whose name I don’t know) handed me a sprig of eucalyptus leaves; soon thereafter, Karl grabbed a microphone and – after a quick dance around the fire with the other custodians and bit of cheery banter – introduced Greg Clarke. After a few words about the significance of the occasion, the mike was then handed around to a handful of other staff for short speeches: some spiritual, some almost uncomfortably pandering to the sponsors present.
When Karl gets the microphone back, he introduces the younger lads around the fire – their introductory speeches, casual and unabashed, were utterly charming. The aboriginal peoples in the crowd were then ushered forward to drop their leaves into the fire, followed by the rest of us; soon, a thick plume of grey smoke rose from the matching grey paving of Victoria Square. As it cleared, Karl pointed us in the direction of the breakfast van near the Wakefield Street corner; a quiet applause (which didn’t feel quite right) from the crowd signalled that this low-key event was over.
I wondered long and hard (well… for three days, anyway) as to whether I’d write about this ceremony for this blog; whether this would be my first “event” for 2014. In the end, I decided that (a) it was something of significance that I wanted to remember, and (2) I got up at 5:45am to see it. And, as I wandered home at 6:40am – still earlier than my usual waking hour – I figured that it was kinda fair enough; though it was a relatively quiet event, and far from the ebullient affair that usually accompanies launches, it kinda felt right to start a Fringe like this: the calm before the storm, so to speak.
And an appropriate way to recognise the traditional keepers of this, my home.
— Pete Muller (@festivalfreakAU) February 10, 2014