Mountain to Mouth, Geelong's two day 80km Extreme Arts walk, has wrapped up its 2016 event lauded as a great success. Over 500 people registered to walk across the event, including 47 who completed the entire 80 kilometres, while over 6000 people attended the ceremonies that took place.
Together they contributed to the creation of a contemporary songline – a pathway across the regions of Geelong and Queenscliff inspired by traditional Indigenous pathways used for thousands of years to navigate across the land through song, story, dance and painting. Over 70 artists were commissioned to create work across the twelve walking circles and three ceremonies, which addressed issues relating to the environment they were set in as well as responding to this year's theme of “Air”.
On an early Saturday morning, on the second day of the Mountain to Mouth journey, a large group of fresh and seasoned walkers began the march to Barwon River Rowing Club. Representatives from the Karingal Foundation led the way out of the city and past the stadium before crossing the bridge and descending onto the walking track by the river. Walkers were greeted by people wielding lanterns whilst drumming plastic containers upon arrival at the sixth Songline Station. Here attendees appreciated Jennifer McElwee's magnificent sculpture "Lost River View", which is modelled on the shape of the river featured in Eugene von Guerard's painting View of Geelong 1856. The walking circle surrounding it was constructed with pots and pans that represented early settlements by the river and were filled with dry ice, creating a picturesque scene as the sun rose in the distance. Jennifer's walking circle examined the changing of environments driven by human settlement, giving walkers much to ponder upon as they continued the journey towards Christies Road led this time by local crossing supervisors.
Mirjana Margetic continued the theme of examining environmental issues at the eighth Songline Station. Upon arrival, walkers were led through a corridor of bush, where birds and nests made from recycled materials lay amongst the shrubs to be discovered by passers. As you exit the corridor, you are confronted with the sculpture of a tree with plastic bags full of different coloured liquids representing pollutants. The walking circle encourages viewers to consider the environmental issues facing the region and uses the pleasant walk through the green corridor full of birds and nests to make the tree at the end all the more provocative. Mirjana was on the ground enthusiastically giving tours to detail the installation's message and her artistic background to everyone who was interested.
From there the journey continued along the Bellarine Rail Trail as the overcast weather gave way for another beautiful and sunny day, with Canoe now carried by the Geelong Sustainability group. After a particularly long stage of walking, the procession arrived at Drysdale Station where Ingrid Petterson gave participants a ritualistic and sensual experience of sight, sound and scent in a charming and slightly pagan-esque walking circle.
Walkers were then provided a choice between continuing their journey on foot or riding Bellarine Railway's historic locomotive to Swan Bay, the site of the ninth walking circle. A small herd of alpacas escorted Canoe as it left Drysdale, with a few others posing for photos and seeing the train travelers off. As the journey descends into Queenscliff, participants are treated to outstanding views of Swan Bay and the entrance of Port Phillip Bay as the route passes by olive groves, vineyards and thickets of ancient moonah.
The ninth walking circle was located beside the Swan Bay Marine and Freshwater Discovery Centre, where a number of walkers and visitors took up the opportunity to discover more about the wildlife of the bay with aquariums featuring a variety of fish species and a touch tank where visitors could get closer to animals like starfish and crabs. The walking circle itself housed an epic and monolithic basalt installation by renowned arts practitioner Glenn Romanis, "Banjo Ray", depicting one of the bays most famous residents. At this point, a lot of walkers seemed rather wearied, with a few taking a quick nap under the sun, while others proclaimed their intention to use the event's shuttle service for the next couple of stages.
Those who pressed on soon hit the coast, where they were met by a king tide before arriving at Point Lonsdale village. On the foreshore overlooking the sea, engineer turned artist Brian Thompson displayed an imposing and impressive metal structure inspired by the H2O cycle. The installation was meticulously constructed so that it would respond to changes in the weather, remaining in a state of continual interaction with the wind, sun, clouds and sea. Across the road meanwhile, the charming band of ukulele players were back on ground to serenade walkers and passers by as they rested and admired the artwork.
Next in line for the duty of carrying Canoe was a group of hooded plover conservationists, aptly self-dubbed "the hooded plover lovers". One of their charismatic members gave a quick speech discussing the importance of protecting these birds before the group donned their full-head plover masks and set off towards Ocean Grove.
The threat of rain and a persistent king tide threatened to spoil the adventure, with the latter delaying the erection of Suyin Honeywell's beautiful "beacon of hope" walking circle installation set on the shores of Ocean Grove's main beach. Both gave way in time for everything to work out perfectly, and droves of beach goers were drawn to the spectacle of the tenth Songline Station on the beach opening, followed by the eventual arrival of Canoe and its procession.
All of a sudden we'd reached the final leg of the journey, as young lifeguards from the Ocean Grove Surf Life Saving Club led the way towards Barwon Heads Foreshore for the final Songline Station and closing ceremony. The Mountain to Mouth procession crossed the last bridge to the mouth of the river and was greeted with cheers as thousands of people enjoyed the final walking circle was took positions on the foreshore, eagerly waiting for the closing ceremony to begin. Artists Michelle Fifer Spooner and Julie Shaw constructed a large sculpture of a feather, serving as a 'welcome home' totem echoing the journey and marking the end of the Extreme Arts walk.
And that was 80km done! Familiar faces from the previous ceremonies returned to give speeches proclaiming the success of its event and how magical it has been. Mountain to Mouth artistic director Meme McDonald commented that "Mountain to Mouth 2016 has exceeded our dreams of what could be achieved artistically - with what each artist contributed creatively - but also in how much it was embraced by the local communities along the walk."
The Gathering of the Elements ceremony was a truly magical end complete with stunning visuals and moving music that contributed to an Olympic Games-esque sense of grandeur. A group of drummers lead the procession of Canoe down from the final walking circle to the edge of the water. From across the other side of the river, a large egg floated towards spectators on a boat, watched over by spirit bird dancers who had appeared in the previous two ceremonies.
As a school of fish puppets dashed across the foreshore, the egg hatched, with newly birthed spirit bird dancer performing a delightful dance as she brought the water carried by Canoe from the rockwell at You Yangs Big Rock and returned it to the sea. Canoe was then set alight and drifted out to sea, marking the end of a ritualistic journey and traversing of a contemporary songline. The crowd left knowing they'd seen something special and wishing something so magical could occur again sooner than in two years time.
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