It is close to forty years since the first Epidavros Festival took place by the banks of the Yarra River in Fairfield.
The festival helped give birth to the flowering of multicultural arts in our richly diverse city, but also gave birth to the beautiful Fairfield Amphitheatre – the only professional-standard outdoor theatre venue in Victoria modelled on the amphitheatres of Ancient Greece.
It is a good time, then, to officially recognise the significant place of this complex of buildings in the social and cultural heritage of Victoria. That is something that I hope the Heritage Council of Victoria will do as it reviews submissions this week.
This is a matter so close to my heart, along with so many others in the Greek-Australian community, the multicultural arts community, and the performing arts, that I have written directly to the Minister for Planning to plead our case.
I am proud to say that I was a member of the Board of the Epidavros Theatre, as it was originally named in the early 1980s, and have first-hand knowledge of the origins of this unique facility and its place in the cultural, bilingual and multicultural history of Melbourne.
Many of the early plays performed at the Fairfield Amphitheatre launched the careers of some Melbourne’s most successful artists, including those who created and performed the “Wogs Out of Work” series on stage and screen. It also served as the centrepiece of ground-breaking Greek-Australian cultural partnerships, and performances by visiting international artists.
The staging of the Epidavros Festival was a watershed moment in Victoria’s cultural development. It marked the birth of professional performing arts celebrating our culturally and linguistically diverse population. It was the first professional outdoor theatre festival, the first bilingual arts festival and was in the vanguard of Victoria’s now-flourishing arts festival and cultural traditions. It inspired a state-wide multicultural theatre festival (Antipodes Greek-Australian Festival) that continues today. Finally, it preceded many of Melbourne’s significant festivals and cultural institutions and directly inspired some.
The Amphitheatre complex is unique in Victoria in its professional-standard facilities, natural acoustics, size, scale and cultural significance. There is no other public professional outdoor theatre in Victoria nor another Ancient Greek style amphitheatre. If the integrity of the complex was compromised, it is unlikely that any municipality would have the resources to build a similar facility to professional standards in the foreseeable future.
While the complex is now under-utilised as a professional performance venue, this should not diminish its value as a facility of intrinsic cultural significance, nor its enormous potential for increased use in a COVID-19 safe future where professional performing arts will require high standard outdoor venues. With this in mind, it must be emphasised that the complete value of the amphitheatre lies in the integrity of the entire complex, including the backstage facilities (River Pavilion) and ticket booth (The Kiosk) being kept together as a functioning whole with heritage protection. It are these integral features of the complex that are currently in dispute as being of ‘significant cultural heritage’ value.
I hope the Victorian Government sees fit to not only ensure that this unique facility is afforded its well-deserved heritage protection, but to ensure its use is more widely promoted and supported in the interests of helping to re-energise live performing arts after an incredibly difficult couple of years.
If after forty years, multicultural arts are not considered part of Australian mainstream cultural identity and therefore of heritage value, then we are truly a multicultural state and nation in name only.
Maria Vamvakinou MP is the Federal Member for Calwell and Deputy Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration.
Readers interested in supporting this important campaign can do so by:
Signing the community petition – https://www.change.org/ProtectFairfieldAmphitheatre
Contacting the Victorian Minister for Creative Industries, the Hon Danny Pearson MP – email firstname.lastname@example.org
Contacting the Victorian Minister for Planning, the Hon Richard Wynne MP – email email@example.com
Contacting their local MP (State and Federal); and
If they are resident in the City of Yarra, contacting their local Yarra City Councillor. Contact details for Yarra Councillors can be found on the following link: https://www.yarracity.vic.gov.au/about-us/council-people/councillors.
*This important campaign should also be of interest to all those who joined in the campaign to save Greek language education at La Trobe University. Ms Madden can be contacted via email – firstname.lastname@example.org – or on her mobile 0417 589 987.