Lisa Waller: Alice Springs Beanie Festival

The October guest speaker was Lisa Waller from Alice Springs Beanie Festival.

This was the 10th year of the Alice Springs Beanie Festival. An old university friend of Lisa’s is the artistic director and invited her to help run it. Lisa ran workshops and helped to write a book.

The lady who started the festival used to travel teaching indigenous people how to run household budgets and quickly realized that they had more basic needs. She started to carry needles and yarn so groups of ladies could sit around at night and learn to make beanies. Winter nights get very cold and many indigenous people sleep out or in unheated, badly insulated houses. The idea of making beanies took off and so the festival was started to show the beanies and provide a market. It now attracts entries from USA, UK and Japan. This year there were 4,000 beanies entered; 9,000 people went through the exhibition in 3 days and there was a turn over of $100,000.
Before the festival Lisa went to Ernabella in the Musgrave Ranges, north western South Australia. Ernabella was started as a mission for the Pitjantjatjara people. They have retained their language and have a tradition of handcrafts including spinning on spindles, and weaving. The Ernabella choir started the Adelaide fringe festival when their request to perform was turned down. The choir master took them to Adelaide in a rented truck to perform in a church.
The women spin on basic spindles similar to a Turkish spindle made from sticks of wonga vine. They were offered spinning wheels but prefer their own spindles and used to spin sheep wool, sometimes mixed with emu feathers, when Ernabella was still a sheep station. Lately they have not been able to get fleece but a request to the Canberra guild resulted in some fleeces being sent to them. They don’t like dyed wool, preferring the natural colours.
Many of the women are old and have poor eyesight and other health problems but they really enjoy being creative. Lisa showed slides of the women at work and some of the displays at the festival. The organizers are committed to charging real prices for the beanies. There are 2-hour workshops costing $10 run at the same time as the festival. There is an organised tour in 2007.

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