Edinburgh's Fringe spirit is at home in Outback Australia
A FESTIVAL on the edge of South Australia's deserts has taken the Fringe movement founded in Edinburgh more than 60 years ago to its wildest frontier.
For two nights in Port Augusta at the weekend, performers from aspiring local stand-ups to major cabaret and comedy acts that have toured to Edinburgh plied their trade in and around the town square, with a former barracks serving as the main venue.
The audience for the Desert Fringe ran from young white Australians enjoying a taste of big-city culture, to Aboriginal families from a town that has long been a crossroads for indigenous people on the move, and has a simmering history of racial politics.
The Desert Fringe was launched by the giant 50-year-old Adelaide Fringe, second only to Edinburgh in size, to take some of its 700 shows into the Outback.
The shows varied from The Axis of Awesome, the comedy rock act who won a four-star review from The Scotsman in Edinburgh last August, to Aboriginal folk and rock performers.
Port Augusta, a town of about 13,000 people, is nearly four hours drive and 200 miles from Adelaide – equivalent to the Edinburgh Fringe setting up shop on the Isle of Skye.
"The goal is to include regional activity as part of our Fringe activities," said the Adelaide Fringe director, Christie Anthoney, whose career has included working in Edinburgh for 12 years running Fringe Sunday and the Famous Spiegeltent.
She said: "I believe that art is a powerful tool for connection and coming together and understanding cultures."
The festival, first launched three years ago, has now won joint funding from the Port Augusta City Council and the local power company, and could become a model for a wider Outback roadshow by artists travelling to Adelaide, South Australia's capital.
Aboriginal singer-songwriter Robert Champion was performing numbers from "a folk song about a bum, or regular joe" to another about how Australia's indigenous people felt when the "First Fleet" of convict ships arrived in Australia.
Port Augusta, a seaport founded in 1852, calls itself the "crossroads of Australia", where the road signs fork to Perth or Alice Springs, hundreds of miles away.
The traditional home of local Nukunu or Barngaria people, it's long been a stopping point for Aboriginal people moving around the Outback.
Port Augusta has been a microcosm of the problems of Australia's Aboriginals, who number about 500,000 in a population of more than 20 million, from historic mistreatment to modern unemployment, alcoholism and failing education systems.
The city's mayor, Joy Baluch, a brashly outspoken publican, has faced claims of discrimination and sometimes racism for measures to move Aboriginal youngsters off the streets, or impose city-wide drinking bans.
The audience that turned out appeared fiercely supportive of its tiny Fringe. Jacqui Turner, 22, a trainee doctor, said: "It's great that these things are in Port Augusta. There's plenty of people out here that appreciate cultural events. It's like any other evolving country town. It's evolving its identity and moving away from the past."
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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