When the World Comes to Town


WOMADelaide: the finely-curated festival of music, dance, art, ideas, culture and cuisine.

It’s where you travel the world in four days, expressing, liberating and educating yourself about the natural world around you and the passionate souls that care for it. 

Strings are strummed, out of key, then in key, while percussionists warm their drumsticks. Mike tests echo between the leaves of century-old Moreton Bay figs, through which, shards of sunlight spotlight outstretched bodies. We’re mid-meditation at the end of the Lululemon-run yoga class, but excitement prematurely invades the headspace.

Up I bounce to feast on WOMADelaide 2015’s fusion of flavours, world beats and silken voices, and words of substance from environmental messengers during workshops and planet talks.1

The first Taste the World session is at Speakers’ Corner, led by Adelaide’s Michelin-starred chef, Jock Zonfrillo. Jock’s career crusade is to incorporate bush foods into a modern, evolved Australian cuisine.

“When you visit Australia, you should be able to eat food that speaks of Australia,” says Glasgow-born Jock, while he cooks. First visiting the country in 1990, he loved its multiculturalism, but couldn’t find much indigenous cuisine in restaurants.

“Indigenous food is not survival food,” he says, “You don’t just survive for 40,000 years… you prosper!”

Jock employs indigenous chefs at his Orana and Street ADL restaurants. Jock will soon kit out a semi-trailer restaurant and travel to indigenous communities to remind them of their own cuisine’s traditional ingredients and cooking methods.

Cured kangaroo loin is now distributed to a salivating audience. It’s cooked with Kakadu plum, fermented with fried purslane (moss rose), and grass oil and bunya nuts. The dish is served with a glass of cedar-smoked beer. Dining to WOMAD’s live soundtrack, I marinate in appreciation of our planet’s diversity. 2

WOMADelaide is a champion of conservation issues. Wandering the grounds, I find shoulder-to-shoulder charity stalls. Nature Foundation SA, a 32 year-old, volunteer-run organisation leads conservation programs around South Australia. The Wilderness Society is campaigning against plans for oil-drilling explorations in the Great Australian Bight. The Sea Shepherd stall further along is packed to the gills, and Greening Australia next to them, displays six-piece backyard biodiversity packs growing native plant shoots. And in collaboration with Greening Australia, from each WOMADelaide ticket sold, $2 is donated to native tree plantings to offset the festival’s ecological footprint.

3The next planet talk, starring former Australian Greens leader, Bob Brown, is entitled: The Silver Lining in the Cloud of Climate Change. His key question is: “Are we pre or post-catastrophic creatures? When do we act?” Bob challenges us:

“We’re the biggest herd of animals ever to graze earth, and annually, we’re using 120% of living resources. It’s predicted that the population will reach 10-12 billion by 2100. So we must live with the land, not off the land!”

A silver lining comes from fellow panellist: Cecilia Woolford, chief executive of EPICCA. Cecilia set up a farmer’s climate change regional adaptation plan. She alerted fellow farmers that they wouldn’t obtain loans without climate change mitigation plans in their business ventures, and is achieving real change.

The following morning I enter the Global Village to browse the stalls of ethical traders. I enjoy Wozwaste, who creatively reincarnate plastic bottles, drink cans, toothpaste tubes and car tyres as bags, belts, wallets and jewellery.

I enter the genial art installation: Exxopolis, a multi-domed inflated sculpture. Ideated by Architects of Air, the labyrinthine luminarium is a walk-through journey into tunnels and chambers. Somewhat interplanetary, it has me feel alien-like exploring surreal hives of natural light and colour. Inside its pods, bathed in ambient music by David Bickley, are meditators and yogis. I join them: “Namaste!”

Come nightfall, I’m sardined into a crowd eagerly anticipating the world-revered Youssou N’Dour. As he walks onto the stage, faces transfix, as the voice of Africa, both politically and musically, spreads the love through open arms. 4

I then witness one of the most captivating performances of my life. Live Live Cinema is an amalgam of film, theatre, music and sound effects. To a silent projected backdrop of the movie, Dementia 13, actors speak the script into mikes with split-second accuracy, to live music. Most mesmerising is the super-talented performer creating rudimentary sound effects with his feet, running water and rustling leaves etc. They’re true masters of performance art!

On my last day of marathon WOMADing, the weather is again perfect. Crowds mingle beneath blissful sunshine, sporting ethically-made festival clothing and eccentric hairdos courtesy of Barcelona’s Osadia (the on-stage theatrical hair and make-up artists). Children roar from painted lion faces as picnic rugs crochet the grounds. And wafting aromas from the food stalls seductively derail me. My affair today is with a gluten-free curried chickpea burger from Let Them Eat and a chocolate brownie from Four Seeds. I’m so in love.

Today’s planet talks session is: Repairing the Blue Heart of Our Planet. I’m quickly inspired by the eco-legend and world-renowned US oceanographer, Sylvia Earle. Founder of Project Mission Blue, Sylvia says:

“Why is anybody eating tuna at 10% population? We must stop industrially extracting wildlife from our oceans. And oysters in Chesapeake Bay are down to 1%!” Its banks used to be lined with them!

5Veteran biologist, Charlie Veron, who has been diving for over 50 years researching coral, admits:

“In 35 years, Great Barrier Reef corals will struggle to build a skeleton. Reefs are home to a third of the ocean’s species, so their demise will lead to mass extinction.”

It’s all on our watch, isn’t it?

Come late afternoon I sit to watch Bärra, featuring Djalu Gurruwiwi, a Galpu clan elder and world-famous didgeridoo player and maker, perform with Gotye. The group sing to us about the spirituality of the sun setting across their sacred land, just as the sun sets on them. As shadows languidly rise up their painted bodies, a tear rolls down my face. And I’m not alone.

I choose this act to end my WOMADelaide journey, and head home with the spirit of Australia and of our precious planet alive in my heart.



Words & images © Marie Barbieri 2015

Marie Barbieri:
Marie is a freelance writer and photographer. She left her native UK eight years ago for the red soils of Australia. Happy as a wombat in dust, she loves the Outback, indigenous culture, getting sandy and salty, keeping fit, and eating her way through chocolate café menus! A winner and finalist in travel competitions, Marie now lives in Adelaide, and adores its festival vibe.

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