Story by Greg Allen Pretty
Photos provided by the Bruthen Arts and Events Council
An absence of events in the Bruthen area due to bushfires and the Covid pandemic meant that the running of two fun winter events really brought the community together in an uplifting way. The Winter Solstice Bonfire and the Winter Fringe Cafe were a hit with locals and visitors alike.
With support in part from Connect Well East Gippsland and Wellington, the events were organised by the Bruthen Arts and Events Council, which hadn’t been able to present their popular Bruthen Blues and Arts Festival in 2020 due to bushfires and 2021 because of Covid restrictions.
The Winter Solstice Bonfire happened on the opening weekend of the first ever East Gippsland Winter Festival.
400 to 500 people came out for the family-friendly event on Saturday 19 June, close to the ‘shortest day of the year’, when dusk came at around 5pm – perfect for an early evening light show and lantern parade.
President of the Bruthen Arts and Events Council, Joy Manley, said they thought they may only get 100 people because of an adverse weather forecast, “but the weather cleared and people just kept coming through the gate.”
Being an outdoor event spread between the town’s garden and hall, that number was well within Covid attendance guidelines.
The event commenced in the afternoon with an Aboriginal ‘welcome to country’ and smoking ceremony, Wacky Wombat doing some juggling and circus acts, and food and drink vans.
Then after dark came an amazing lantern parade. Prior to the event, Tracey Johnson had run lantern-making workshops and around 140 people, students and adults, turned up to the bonfire event with their colourful lanterns.
The night also featured a light show set to music, the gardens were lit up with lasers and other lights, and there was a bright fire sculpture at the hall. This all led to the evening’s climax of a big bonfire which glowed and radiated heat on a cold winter night.
“There was definitely a positive vibe… the excitement of being able to catch up with people,” Joy said.
“People were talking about other things they’d like to see happen in Bruthen… it really brought back a sense of community and a sense of belonging that had probably been missing over the last couple of years,” Joy said.
The community buzz of the Winter Solstice Bonfire was repeated at the recent Winter Fringe Cafe.
The event on 3 July in the public hall was Covid-capped at 100 people, who all enjoyed a variety show featuring entertainers from the region, with food, and return appearances of Tracey’s light show and the circus antics of Wacky Wombat.
After the stress and anxiety of the 2019-2020 bushfires, the Bruthen community needed time to recover and heal. However, that was forcibly postponed with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and the restrictions and lockdowns it imposed on the already battle-weary people of the district.
“The community was fragmented with people having to leave town and all the anxiety around the bushfires, and then Covid thrown in on top of that,” Joy said.
“There hadn’t been any organised sport and other activities, so it fragmented the community to some degree.
“People were just excited to have something to come out to, to reconnect with each other, and just to have a good time.”
The two local events during the East Gippsland Winter Festival were timely and very welcome. Spirits had been lifted, and hopes raised that there may be more such events in the future.
Connect Well East Gippsland and Wellington is a partnership that works together to improve mental health and wellbeing outcomes for people in the region. The positive community response to the Bruthen events is a great example of this funding at work.
Meanwhile, the Bruthen Arts and Events Council is making plans to hold another Blues and Arts Festival in early 2022, with fingers crossed that a return to a near-normal format would be possible, attracting local residents and visitors from around the region and the country.
Photos provided by the Bruthen Arts and Events Council: