Fairfax Festival Blog Nine: Kaarin and Jess Fairfax Interview

by Jane

Community radio workshops at the Fairfax Festival

Community radio workshops at the Fairfax Festival

This was the seventeenth year of the Fairfax Festival, established after the death of George Fairfax. Fairfax was born in the Mallee region of Victoria, before moving to Melbourne to study law. While there, it was in student theatre he discovered a love and changed over to a much more volatile career path. He went on to be an influential figure in Melbourne theatre, including as the first CEO/GM of the Arts Centre, where one of the theatres now bares his name.

His daughters Kaarin and Jess carry on his love for the arts, and have an on going commitment to the Festival. In a break between workshops they were running in community radio, we sat down and had a talk about George, the Festival, and Swan Hill.

“George was cool,” Kaarin tells me. “He was a really cool guy. Definitely he was a champion for young artists and encouraging young artists to have the opportunity to explore their loves and expose their artistic dreams. And there’s not often a lot of opportunities to do that.”

As he grew up in the region, it was important for the family that his legacy carries on there. “Just because you’re born outside of the cities, and maybe somewhere where you feel like you don’t have as much of an opportunity, that should never stop your dreams,” says Kaarin. “It doesn’t matter your location, it’s what you choose to do and how you choose to live your life.”

“That’s how the Fairfax Festival was then set up: to say to kids and the area and they beyond ‘dream big; think big.’ We’re in a fortunate position where we want to give you an opportunity to come in and find out what you love, and nurture what you love.”

Adds Jess, “if it’s not visually there for them, sometimes it’s like [the kids] don’t know those opportunities exist. Bringing in all these professional artists into Swan Hill and work-shopping with the kids and working with them opens up a huge idea of what’s available out there and what you can achieve and what you can do.”

“If you have never experienced this thing, how do you know that it’s there?” she asks. “Once the kids get to have a go of it all these opportunities open up.”

For both Kaarin and Jess, the Festival is an important platform for these young people to have their voices heard and respected. “So often I know young people feel ignored,” says Kaarin. “Or that their opinions and desires and needs are not listened to or even noticed.”

At Fairfax, says Jess, “They get their voices out there. It’s coming 100% from within them, no one is telling them what they can or can’t do, or what they should or shouldn’t say. Whether they’re on radio talking about what they want to do, or if it’s them expressing themselves through their theatre or their puppet making, it’s coming from within them.”

This is a huge part of what George Fairfax worked for, says Kaarin, “taking young artists and saying ‘here is an opportunity to expand your knowledge, to feel valued.”

“Dad loved to make new work and was always behind nurturing artists. I think he was just a great lover of art.”

His choice to move from law to the theatre had a profound influence on his daughters, and for Jess one of the things she took from him and continues to take from the arts in Melbourne is the sense of community. “When you do endeavor and take that path into a career into the arts which is not stable, it’s so incredible to have that community around you and to meet new people that have a similar mind frame to you and share similar experiences with.”

“So I think just because you’re from the bush doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the same opportunities as a kid in the city,” she says. “And you think about all the incredible talent that is out here in regional and remote areas, and if they’re not given the opportunities to explore that imagine what a loss we’re at as the general public.”

They are both clearly excited by the impact of the Festival that extends beyond the kids. Says Jess, Swan Hill is involved “because we’re on the radio and people are listening to it, it’s involved because there are giant skeletons walking down the street, there are kids everywhere, and there is the YES Fest Friday night. So it’s really about giving Swan Hill a bit of a shake up as well.”

Says Kaarin, “for all of us I think it’s important to be challenged in some ways. We can get set in our ways, and we can get stuck, and I think something like the Fairfax Festival is like a little explosion.”

Picking off a few pieces of glitter of Kaarin’s arm from a mask making workshop, Jess laughs. “An explosion of glitter!”