Sydneysiders used to hibernate in cold weather. After months of beach dips, backyard barbecues and outdoor festivals, we’d shut ourselves away from May to August, only leaving the house if paid to do so.
In winter we shivered under our doonas and hugged hot water bottles because as a matter of pride, we refused to build our houses with central heating. I mean, we aren’t Melbourne.
It’s a vibrant time of the year for Sydneysiders, when the glow from the 23-day festival takes over the city.
Our winter social calendars were emptier than a screening of Zoolander 2. It was unthinkable to attend weddings, parties, or anything beyond a pub with a roaring fireplace and the footy on a big screen.
Not any more. Since the Vivid juggernaut kicked off eight years ago, we’ve flocked to the harbour in such overwhelming numbers it’s like New Year’s Eve every night, in terms of feverish excitement but also congestion and transport delays.
In the new Sydney, we’ll gladly endure the cold if promised pretty lights and selfie opportunities. There’s never been a more exciting time to sell Thermoses and longjohns.
The May-June period gets more crowded every year, and not just thanks to the ever-increasing scale of Vivid, which boasts Music and Ideas streams besides the lights.
There’s the Writers’ Festival, which fills the Walsh Bay wharves with people queueing for David Marr’s autograph. Up the road at the State Theatre, there’s the Film Festival, which features enough foreign languages to give Pauline Hanson an aneurysm, and the Comedy Festival, which now serves up more galas than the average greengrocer.
If that somehow isn’t enough, there’s now TEDxSydney, Fashion Week, the Head On Photo Festival, and, biennially, the Biennale.
It requires military-level logistics skills to find time between your movies, comedy gigs, gallery trips and talkfests to fight through the crowds and look at the lights. The schedule’s become more confusing than the Senate voting system.
This May-June cultural bonanza now rivals summer as my favourite time of year. Many of the world’s best writers, comedians, musicians, filmmakers, and TV producers converge on our city, and the atmosphere is electric.
During those weeks, Sydney rivals the likes of London and New York in terms of the sheer volume of heavy hitters who come through our airport to share their boundless wisdom and complain about jet lag. It’s enough to momentarily banish our cultural cringe.
But then it stops. July comes around, and the tap is switched off. We are left to curl up in front of our heaters until September brings the footy finals and the Fringe Festival.
I’m particularly conscious of this gap this year, because I was travelling in May and June, and arrived home on July 1 with only the election to look forward to. Yes, that’s how desperate I became.
I can’t understand how this constitutes sensible planning by our event organisers. Why have they crammed the first half of winter with so many competing cultural events that we can’t possibly get to them all? There are direct clashes like TEDx and SWF, while July and August boast barely a meagre seminar to lure us out.
Surely the Sydney Film Festival, at least, could move to the coldest part of the year? It’s always toasty in the State Theatre. Or maybe if Vivid was in August, it wouldn’t conflict with the older May-June events?
No doubt there are complicated factors that determine these timings. So instead, perhaps we should dream up even more events to keep us entertained through the rest of winter.
I’ve often pondered starting a Festival of Stupid Ideas to rival the Dangerous one, and maybe we could spend a fortnight in July gathering at the State Theatre to binge-watch Breaking Bad?
Paris has a week when all the cinemas sell tickets for only $6, which would be excellent, and there might also be scope for a jazz festival, or a theatre one, with performances in unusual venues. Death of a Salesman in a Westfield, perhaps, or A Streetcar Named Desire on board the light rail?
Now that we’ve all bought thick jackets and gloves, we’ll take anything to get us out of the house. Maybe Barangaroo can pick up the slack and prove that it’s more than just a pretty bit of landscaping to view from the new casino
Sydney’s now an excellent place to live for 10 months of the year. We just need to pull together a few great activities for July and August, and we’ll really put those so-called festival-loving Melburnians in their place. Their cold, dark place.