Alternative capitals

#1: Alternative capital – Bendigo, Victoria Offering blockbuster exhibitions, sophisticated dining scenes and unique experiences aplenty, Australia’s alternative capitals are destinations in themselves. The Bendigo Art Gallery sits at the heart of this Victorian city, regularly presenting such dynamic exhibitions as Marimekko: Design Icon 1951 – 2018, which runs until 11 June. We caught up with the gallery’s director, Karen Quinlan. How would you describe Bendigo’s creative scene today? : "Bendigo has developed and grown over the last few decades and is a thriving creative city, with a rich cafe, dining and fashion culture and a full calendar of events and festivals. All of this blends with the rich gold-rush heritage buildings to add much to the overall feel of the city." And what role does the Bendigo Art Gallery play in that? : "We are one of the largest regional galleries in Australia, and the support we have from the local community and the City of Greater Bendigo means we have been able to raise the bar by bringing in international exhibitions, many exclusive to the city. We have also been able to build on our extensive 19th-century European art and Australian holding with an important and growing contemporary Australian art collection, which we like to show alongside international exhibitions so what we offer audiences is rich and diverse and constantly changing. Over time we have become a destination, a reason to visit Bendigo, and the City recognises this and continues to support our programs. It’s an enviable model and one that continues to evolve and grow."

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#2: Alternative capital – Fremantle, Western Australia Eat : Port city Fremantle is known for its precincts of late Victorian and early Edwardian buildings that were spared the wrecking ball when the (wheat and gold) glory days ended and economic activity shifted to Perth. A wander down the lively stretch of South Terrace known as Cappuccino Strip provides a great snapshot of this. Stop for coffee, of course, but also restaurants, pubs and breweries and the nearby Fremantle Markets. Drink: Fremantle’s iconic Little Creatures Brewery is based out of a huge waterfront shed that was once a crocodile farm. If that isn’t enough to pique your interest, perhaps the lure of a pale ale and pizza in the buzzy Great Hall or in the sunny backyard will do the trick. Play: Housed in a former asylum built by convicts, today the Fremantle Arts Centre is a contemporary cultural space. It hosts exhibitions such as Revealed Exhibition: New and Emerging WA Aboriginal Artists (until 21 May), talks and gigs – from local musicians to big-ticket international acts – across its ample grounds.

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#3: Alternative capital – Bundaberg, Queensland It might be famous for its rum, turtles and aviation history (the first solo flight between England and Australia was made in 1928 by Bundaberg-born Bert Hinkler, whose house-museum you can visit today), but there’s plenty more brewing in Queensland’s coastal city of Bundaberg. For 10 days in July, Winterfeast food festival takes over the city and its surrounds to showcase the region’s produce through a host of farm-to-gate experiences. And on Friday nights throughout the year, you’ll find an old boat-building shed on the riverbank transformed into a lively food market and craft-beer bar. A labour of love for longtime Bundy residents Greg and Karen Wittkopp, RiverFeast (pictured) was launched two and a half years ago “to give locals and visitors alike a unique eating, drinking and entertainment experience alongside the Burnett River,” says Karen. It brings together everything from Latin American barbecue to dim sum and Hungarian langos (a specialty fried bread with toppings) with local ciders and spirits including, of course, Bundaberg rum.  

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#4: Alternative capital – Newcastle, New South Wales “My favourite thing about Newcastle? The beaches are always at the top of my list, as is the case for most people here. In the last few years there have been a lot of changes to the infrastructure and overall vibe of Newcastle. What was once a ‘dead’ town now is buzzing with new bars, weekend markets, a growing music industry and amazing places to eat. Don’t leave town without spending a few hours eating and shopping down Darby Street before heading to the beach, which is only a short drive or a beautiful walk away.” -Morgan Clark, co-founder of Pushing Pansies

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#5: Alternative capital – Townsville, Queensland Dr Madeline Fowler, senior curator of maritime archaeology at the Museum of Tropical Queensland, shares her passion for her work and home in the North Queensland capital. What role does the Museum play in the city of Townsville? : "The Museum of Tropical Queensland, part of the Queensland Museum Network, is embedded in the Townsville community. From behind-the-scenes care of our State heritage objects and coral reef specimens, to celebrating northern Queensland’s unique Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, to bringing blockbuster international exhibitions to our doorstep, the museum aims to engage the community with our exploration of the past and our local environments." Apart from a visit to the museum, of course, what should we not leave the city without doing?: "Get outdoors! One of the best things about Townsville is how close we are to many wonderful natural and cultural heritage places. From relaxing on Magnetic Island and scuba diving on the historic shipwreck Yongala, to swimming in waterfalls at Paluma Range National Park and scrambling up Castle Hill, there is an adventure for everyone."

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#6: Alternative capital – Ballarat, Victoria Eat: Head to the Forge Pizzeria on Armstrong Street if you’re partial to great pizza and a side of exposed brickwork. The popular and buzzy CBD joint (with a second outpost further west in Alfredton) is named in honour of its founders’ grandfather, a blacksmith, and today a wood-fired oven is central to operations. The menu is creative and inventive. Drink: Spend a fine Ballarat evening in Mitchell Harris Wines, a cool industrial space that in its 140-year history has served as a produce store, tentmakers’ and motor workshop. Today, the bar acts as cellar door and showcase for local winemaker John Harris, as well as other wines of Central and Western Victoria. Stay: Spend a night or a few in a historic townhouse, Lascelles Terrace, that has been luxuriously renovated with utmost style and character. Hire the upstairs or downstairs apartment of one house, or the whole house next door.

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#7: Alternative capital – Alice Springs, Northern Territory It’s your jumping-off point for exploring the outback of the Northern Territory, and a city of art and culture in its own unique capacity. Throughout the year, check out Aboriginal art in Alice Springs’ galleries and enjoy brunch and coffee at a funky cafe. Visit in springtime and you’ll find the city activated by the Alice Desert Festival, an annual event that brings together music and dance collaborations from traditional Aboriginal artists and contemporary acts; in winter, it’s time for the eccentric Beanie Festival.  

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#8: Alternative capital – Launceston, Tasmania We’ve seen, via Hobart and the ‘Mona effect’ (see also Bilbao and its Guggenheim museum), the power that creativity has to transform a city in the culture stakes and beyond. With Mona’s summer festival MONA FOMA (or Mofo) planning to relocate its entire operation to Launceston in 2019, is Tasmania’s second-largest city next? “With the current Hobart-centric boom of Tasmania nationally and internationally there’s a sense that the north of the state is missing out,” says Brian Ritchie, curator of Mofo (and bass player for the Violent Femmes). “That’s not really true,” he continues. “There are many great events and organisations in the north, such as Junction Arts Festival, Big hART and The Unconformity. We hope to add to that in our own inimitable style.” Events held in Launnie during 2018’s January festival included Bloc Party, “an inclusive mess of onesie-clad partying,” says Brian. “We hope that vibe will become infectious and Mona Foma in Launceston becomes a destination for locals, people in other parts of Tassie and interlopers from the so-called mainland and further afield.”

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#9: Alternative capital – Mt Gambier, South Australia You’ll find Mount Gambier halfway between Adelaide and Melbourne in the flatlands below an extinct volcano on the Limestone Coast. It’s known for its unique natural assets: crater lakes (including the famous Blue Lake, at its most luminous in summer), underground caves and the Umpherston Sinkhole  – once a cave before the top of the chamber collapsed, and now a gorgeously verdant sunken garden. This compact, laid-back city’s volcanic landscape is complemented by good restaurants, stores and cafes – try small-batch specialty coffee roasters Mikro – and an interesting institution in the shape of a 152-year-old prison. These days, James Stephenson and his wife Melissa run the Old Mount Gambier Gaol (above) as a boutique accommodation and event space that can host anything from birthday parties to art events and the largest concerts – think Jimmy Barnes, Xavier Rudd and Suzi Quatro – the region has seen. “It is an empty canvas to be able to do anything we want to try,” says James. Well-travelled but born and bred in the city, chef and hospitality gun James loves the ease of life he finds in Mount Gambier, with its relaxing town-like pace of life supplemented by a city buzz when the likes of Jimmy rock up.  

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#10: Alternative capital – Armidale, New South Wales “Armidale is one of those rural communities that punches far above its weight," says Deborah Pulkkinen, managing director of Wayward Trails. "This is the kind of place you come for a holiday and end up living happily ever after. I believe they call it a tree change. If you want culture and art, you really can’t go any further than Armidale. We have such a variety, from the famous Hinton collection at NERAM, our regional art museum, to endeavours such as Go Create! in Kentucky, which provides a textiles and art retreat. "Obviously my bias is towards food and beverage and you cannot get more paddock-to-plate than here. Throw in some craft beer, world-class gin and cool-climate wines and I don’t think you could find a better region for local produce. Armidale is also a very picturesque town, fully experiencing all four seasons: a bit of a rarity in Australia. Armidale is very ‘Southern Highlands’, but the beauty of it is that it is relatively undiscovered.”

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