5 Minutes With M~M Artistic Director, Meme McDonald

Meme McDonald

Meme McDonald

Growing up in sheep and cattle country in western Queensland, Meme McDonald has always had an affinity with the land, and in 2016, she continues in the role of Artistic Director for Geelong’s Extreme Arts Walk - M~M. She speaks here to the crew at M~M HQ  about her passion for land, walking journeys and the Geelong region.

M~M HQ Crew: Meme, describe what M~M means for you?
M~M is a golden opportunity to walk the land. An opportunity to take part in a rare moment that only happens every two years, when it is possible to walk a pathway from the eagle’s view at You Yangs Big Rock to the watery mouth of the Barwon River. And to be inspired along the way with stunning vistas of industry, nature and extreme art in some rather unusual places.

M~M HQ Crew: How did M~M come about?
Extreme times call for extreme art. In 2007, I was engaged as Artistic Director of Connecting Identities by the Arts & Culture Department of the City of Greater Geelong.

My brief was to take the issue of the rapid change that municipality of Geelong was facing, with its sizeable impact on local identity, and create an arts programme that could have a positive effect on people’s perception of themselves and their place.

The first question I asked myself was, ‘what connects us?’ One answer is, 'the land'. I have a long-term interest and respect for the Aboriginal cultures whose footsteps we follow. The traditional songlines that criss-cross this entire continent are rich food for the imagination. Early discussions with elders in Geelong endorsed the concept of creating a contemporary songline – M~M.

In its pilot stage in 2009, M~M went up stream from the mouth of the river to the You Yangs. When we changed to go with the natural flow of water downhill in 2014, the whole timing of M~M fell beautifully into place. M~M2016 will consolidate this flow.

M~M HQ Crew: For those who experienced M~M2014, what is different about this iteration?
We are following in the footsteps of indigenous ancestors who walked songlines – walking journeys that stretched across the country – from southern Victoria to Cape York. At 80 kilometres, our M~M contemporary songline is a baby, barely born. It will take tens and maybe hundreds of years until it becomes a songline of significance. M~M2016 will see a consolidation of this songline and a strengthening of the extreme arts that walkers will experience along the way.

M~M HQ Crew: Why should people be putting M~M in their 2016 calendars?
M~M is an extreme arts walk - that is unique to Geelong, to Australia and perhaps unique even further afield. M~M is not intended to be easy. It takes courage to walk this land and to commit to such a physical challenge. But for those who take a chance, the opportunity to discover the region by taking an extreme arts walk, is a uniquely local experience that is not to be missed...

M~M returns 6-7 May 2016. Registrations will open soon.

M~M and Geelong After Dark Win Award For Innovation

Image: Brien Cohn

Image: Brien Cohn

The multi-award winning projects – M~M and Geelong After Dark have just won a prestigious award at the Australian Regional Development Conference (ARCD) Innovation Awards.

Acknowledged as offering a “great legacy” to the region, the two arts events were jointly awarded a Community Development Award at the recent conference, described by ARDC judges as having an “outstanding approach to engaging an enormous range of city groups and diverse parts of the population” with “exceptional planning and processes”.

This underscores comments of previous judging panels, who speak of M~M’s “breath-taking conception, scope and execution…” and “profound meaning and significance to the Geelong community...”  The Australian Event Awards also recently applauded the inclusive nature of the M~M project, and the manner in which it pools the collective knowledge and commitment of many groups to “…create a whole greater than the sum of the parts.”

City of Greater Geelong Councillor Andy Richards Portfolio Holder for Arts and Culture said M~M2014 and Geelong After Dark were unique events bringing the community together on a large scale.

“ M~M takes people from all walks of life on a journey to discover the region’s culture and traditions. The 80km walk incorporates a programme of music, visual arts, storytelling, environmental and sporting elements and the City and event partners are currently planning for M~M2016,” said Cr Richards.

“Geelong After Dark is one night of pop up arts events, performances and musical acts that transform Central Geelong. It is continuing to grow, the 2014 event had over 6,000 participants and the 2015 event had more than 10,000.”

M~M Artistic Director, Meme McDonald was also delighted to hear this news.

“The award applauds M~M as innovative as well as contributing significantly to community development in Geelong. We couldn’t be prouder receiving this award.” 

M~M: Geelong’s Extreme Arts Walk and Geelong After Dark are both set to return to the Geelong region on 6-7 May 2016.

M~M @ Geelong After Dark 2015

The second year of Geelong After Dark, M~M’s little sister event, was a hit!  More than 10,000 people came out on Friday May 8th to see 247 artists and 95 new artworks pop up in surprising places around the Geelong city centre.

M~M featured six stunning events at Geelong After Dark 2015. These events were created by artists commissioned to work with specific communities along the M~M contemporary songline as concept development for M~M2016.

The Pines


The Lara Soldiers Avenue is the oldest arborial community planting in Geelong and a solemn memorial to service and sacrifice. At Geelong After Dark a dawn ceremony among the trees is projected into the darkness of Geelong’s lanes, the flickering of a pre-digital technology reminding us that the past is present in the future and rituals are what bring us together. The Pines is conceived as a continuous flow of images rather than as conventional narrative, a poetic rendering of a time and place, a film about the act of rememberance.

The Pines film has been made with members of Lara RSL who participated as hosts of M~M 2014 Lara walking circle. The Pines film is the starting point to engaging with the RSL creatively with a view to them collaborating with an artist for M~M2016 as active participants and creators as well as hospitable hosts for the walking circle. As custodians of the Lara Soldier’s Avenue this seems an appropriate starting point to explore the significance and symbolism of the pine trees to the RSL members and as a distinctive part of the Lara landscape.

Soft Oyster


Soft Oyster, created by the youth of the North of Geelong alongside professional puppet makers, is encased in beautiful patterned circular forms dreamed up by the Norlane Yarn Bombers. These patterns echoe the light and hyperbolic crochet of the M~M2014 Moorpanyal Park walking circle. The oyster pearl glows softly as it completes its sisyphean circuit. It reflects the relentless nature of the sea and the tenacity of organisms like the Corio Bay Oyster that have returned to our waters after years of depletion.

Grass Shrine


Native grasslands are as diverse as they are unique. They have played a crucial role in biodiversity, Aboriginal culture and European colonisation with the introduction of grazing animals. An iconic plant within the original grasslands is the Kangaroo Grass, Themeda triandra, found in every State and Territory in Australia. Native grasslands are now estimated to be as low as 1% of their original cover in Victoria and are amongst the most endangered habitats.

Noise Scavengers


Noise Scavengers are a constantly morphing group of young people from Geelong’s northern suburbs who have been collaborating with James Hullick and the Click Clack Project for a number of years. Industrial, experimental and unpredictable, Noise Scavengers’ latest incarnation could be terrifying or very zen. 

A Noise Scavengers quartet performed at Sonic Flock in the Melbourne Festival alongside professional musicians and artists including Ros Bandt. This incarnation of Noise Scavengers is a first step in the development of the next stage of Noise Scavengers which seeks to engage marginalised young people in contemporary arts practice and performance with a view to participation in M~M2016 at Steampacket Gardens.

Shadow Puppets After Dark


The river themed story of “Boora the Pelican” is closely aligned to the environmental features and birdlife of the Barwon River Estuary. In creating a shadow puppet show inspired by this story, students have extended their creative skills and also learned about storytelling within indigenous cultures. 

The school community of Our Lady Star of the Sea Primary School was involved in M~M2014 creating the walking circle on the beach at Ocean Grove. At GAD2015, they perform alongside the Barwon Heads Primary School “Marine Puppets After Dark”. This will lead to further opportunities for collaboration between the two school communities for M~M2016.

Marine Puppets After Dark


The communities of Barwon Heads and Ocean Grove are separated physically by the environmentally significant Barwon River Estuary. Although only three kilometres separate Barwon Heads and Ocean Grove, the two towns have developed into two distinct communities evidenced by their historic rivalries in sporting events. 

“Marine Puppets After Dark” working alongside “Shadow Puppets After Dark” created by Our Lady Star of the Sea Primary School from Ocean Grove, brings the two communities together to celebrate our shared links to our coastal environment. “Marine Puppets After Dark” parade audiences through the streets at Geelong After Dark 2015 to the Dimmy’s shop window to watch the “Shadow Puppets After Dark” performance.

Barwon Heads Primary School created star lanterns for M~M2014. Progressing their skills in puppetry will lead to further opportunities for creative involvement in next year's M~M2016. 

Photographs courtesy of the Geelong Camera Club and other photographers including:

  • Brien Cohn
  • D Grant
  • Ketut Sewitra

M~M's Inaugural Think Tank

M~M’s inaugural extreme arts Think Tank was held on February 12th 2015 at the Arts and Culture Department in the National Wool Museum. Bold ideas abounded from the inspirational speakers and the gathering of M~M and Geelong After Dark Alumni of Artists.

It’s not too late to be a part of the Think Tank. We welcome your ideas and thoughts on the kinds of arts projects or themes that you would like to see embraced in future M~Ms or at this year’s Geelong After Dark on Friday May 8th. Please send your inspired thoughts on the form.

Check out the websites of the seven panelists who presented as part of the M~M Think Tank 2015.