28 March 2024

Just 'folking' around: Behind the scenes as The Nash hits town

| Eileen Mulligan
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The Construction Team

The Construction Team builds friendships old and new. Left to right are Charmian Eckersley, John Sutton, and Daphne and Peter. Photos: Eileen Mulligan.

A cushy job in Lost Property. That was the job I wanted when I applied to be a volunteer at the National Folk Festival over Easter. I’d be tucked inside an office at Exhibition Park in Canberra, out of the weather, nothing too arduous. Sweeeet.

Instead, I found myself toiling in the sun with the Construction Team, worrying about my peaches and sunspot complexion as we loaded and unloaded a heap of building materials onto a ute – including a kitchen sink.

We sanded the edges of timber boards for a dance floor. We sorted murals that were to be hung along the fences to add colour and atmosphere to the festival site. My colleagues drove in star pickets and hung mesh signs welcoming people to the annual festival.

Thankfully I was issued gloves to protect my soft, little, white hands. Those of us with fewer capabilities were never expected to let our ambitions get in the way of our capabilities.

I loved it and my ancestors of labourers, tradies and real workers would have been proud.

The Construction Team was a cheerful bunch of women and men of all shapes and ages, part of the pre-festival workforce preparing the site for “five days in a perfect world” from 28 March to 1 April.

People with real skills – and licences – got to drive forklifts.

In return, we were given season tickets and a campsite. Seems like a fair deal to me. The beauty of pre-festival or post-festival work is you can work your requisite hours before or after the festival so you can enjoy the whole show uninterrupted.

My next shifts were as part of the Gates Team, making sure everyone who entered the site had accreditation and knew where they were going.

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During quiet spells, musicians practised and knitters gave the needles a good workout. The rest of us exchanged stories and information about the best free-camping sites or pun-nished each other with groan-worthy dad jokes.

Some volunteers had worked there for decades; some younger folk were following in the footsteps of a parent or grandparent. Some were musicians while the rest of us had only played on the linoleum as children.

For some grey nomads, working at festivals around the country was one way to stretch the travel budget, while others were driven by the need to help the festival succeed.

The Nash relies on 800 volunteers to keep it rolling year after year and managing director Heidi Pritchard said volunteers were the heartbeat of the festival.

It’s not all perfect harmony, of course. The volunteer team is composed of enthusiastic amateurs, old hands and newbies, many pleasant and willing people and the occasional challenging personality.

The way of doing things over the years changes and there are the inevitable teething problems and communication breakdowns.

So, as a gatekeeper, I apologise to any stallholder or camper I may have held up unnecessarily as they tried to enter the site, or for waving through people I should have quizzed further. There’s a fine line between being too casual and being too officious.

If you were misled, I empathise with your frustration. I had been told to “camp anywhere” when I arrived but a few days later was told to relocate because I was taking up real estate set aside for paying customers.

It was hot, I was tired and a bit peeved. “Folkitie, folkitie, folk,” I swore in my head as I relocated my gear on a hot afternoon.

Happily the new campsite was better and my new neighbour jollied me along with welcoming chat and a litany of corny jokes.

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My co-ordinator, the wonderful Judy Bamberger, was full of apology for the communication breakdown and her good humour was so infectious it seemed rather boring of me to harp on it any longer.

Anyway, on another positive note, one of my Gates mates, Ian McKenzie, invited me to join his team of musicians and dancers who will compete in the Infinite Tina Turner Song Contest. We will be performing The Nutbush.

Ian is part of a group of 25 friends from the Hunter region who meet annually and gather under a structure they call the Tarp Mahal.

So it’s time to dust off my dancing boots – by rubbing them on the back of my work trousers – put on a big smile and head off to rehearsals with the other “nut jobs”.

For more information on festival tickets or volunteering click here.


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