Celebrating 10 years of transporting and transformative art and music

Rockhampton River Festival is a stimulating celebration of music, arts and ideas on the banks of the Fitzroy River.
Two female-presenting individuals pose for the camera. They both have a colourful 1980s-inspired look, as does the background of the photo. One wears a pink rubber glove and holds a blue scrubbing brush up to her eat like a telephone. The other wears a single yellow rubber glove and wields a feather duster like a sword. They are The Ironing Maidens, who are performing at Riverfest X.

The popular Rockhampton River Festival is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year with Riverfest X. The Festival marks and celebrates the significant transformation and growth that the Rockhampton region – and the local community – has experienced since the first iteration of the Festival back in 2014.

Riverfest X gets off to a great start on Friday 26 July with the Country on Quay opening night concert and an outstanding lineup of country music talent.

The Country on Quay program is headlined by internationally acclaimed singer Travis Collins. With a career spanning nine albums, over 36 million streams and many accolades including numerous Golden Guitar Awards and CMC Awards, Collins will deliver an unforgettable performance of heartfelt ballads and exhilarating country-rock anthems. Country on Quay will also feature some exceptional up-and-coming country artists including Gemma Kirby, Lewis McKee, and Australian Idol sensation Trent Richardson.

Other musical highlights over the Riverfest X weekend include a performance by Aussie rock legends Eskimo Joe, playing many of their iconic hits on the Tunuba Stage on the Festival’s final day. ARIA Award-winning singer-songwriter Dan Sultan will also be appearing, performing some of his most-loved tracks.

Not to be missed are The Ironing Maidens. Their live electronic experience is ‘absolutely the most fun you will ever have while thinking about housework!’ Beginning their performance journey ten years ago on a tour of regional laundromats, Melania Jack and Patty Preece are the driving force behind the Maidens.

‘We couldn’t get many gigs in music venues because we are not really a traditional band – our instruments are irons and ironing boards that we have turned into electronic instruments and that’s how we play the set. We are also not theatre. So we started doing regional laundromats, which was a great way to tour the show,’ says Jack.

‘We are excited to come to Rockhampton for the Festival. We played the SuperClean Laundromat in Rockhampton a few years ago as part of our regional laundromat tour and we had so much fun with the audience there, we are so keen to come back!’

Preece produces the beats and Jack creates the visuals; they both perform and play the music on stage along with dancers Georgia Pierce and Nadia Milford. ‘They dance and they are so funny!’ says Jack.

The Ironing Maidens will be performing Electro House Wife at Riverfest X. ‘The show is an explosion of music, dance, colour, fun, and a huge dose of irony,’ Jack says, noting that audiences can expect to ‘have a laugh, a dance, and swish some feather dusters around.’

She adds: ‘The music in Electro House Wife is an homage to house music, that great sound and the dancefloor. It’s inclusive and empowering; it’s a place where everyone can feel good. The show is a play on that genre and scene.’

Underlying all the fun is a considered political message about gender equity and queering the very binary concepts around housework. But that doesn’t mean it’s earnest or didactic. ‘At the same time, our mission is very much to make people dance, laugh, and have a great night.’

Soft sculptures and wearable art

Importantly, Riverfest X is not just about music; it’s also about art and culture, sharing food and ideas, and being immersed in exciting and unique experiences.

ØFFERINGS (aka artist Melissa Gilbert) will be presenting the UnitePlayPerform Universe, a series of immersive artworks called Playkits. Gilbert’s artistic practice is described as being ‘ageless, timeless, genderless, and sacred’.

The Playkits at Riverfest will include Utopia Playshop and Hyper Temples. Participants can design their own plush avatar that becomes a wearable artwork in the Utopia Playshop while Hyper Temples facilitates building – and destroying – large scale soft sculpture blocks to design temples that track, morph, and change. 

Gilbert says of their work: ‘The outcomes of what people see, feel, and do can draw out radical self-expression, creativity, joy, playfulness, and an enhanced connection to self and community.

‘They will explore these unique tactile and tangible artworks that are exhibited in museums and access them as socially engaging art!’

Founder and Director of UnitePlayPerform, Melissa Gilbert, whose artist name is ØFFERINGS, ‘Hyper Temples’ sculptural series, 2023 Melbourne Design Week. Photo: Courtesy Melissa Gilbert.

Gilbert says each person feels the experience in their own unique way. ‘People at our past events have felt a hit of dopamine and lots of playful expression. And some people can experience profound insights.’

The underlying ethos of the UnitePlayPerform Universe is about enhancing wellbeing and giving people the opportunity to contribute to designing art in new and exciting ways.  

‘New ways of thinking, being, doing, and living may come from places where play is activated,’ says Gilbert.

‘Activating art can lead us to daydream, invent, iterate, and create – and perhaps even access new ideas for expansion. The artworks act as “communication tools” that help us explore meaning making. So we can find a new edge, and push our limitations within the safety of art.’

Working at the intersection of art and health is a real and enduring passion for Gilbert. ‘It is something I endlessly explore as an artist, experience designer, and educator. I want to introduce people to finding a “space for possibility” and helping them use art as a tool to come home to self.’

And the work itself is grounded in deeply-held personal beliefs.

‘Many people don’t realise that I practice trusting and allowing my body, breath, and intention to design the Playkit series of artworks. This is a ritual practice and something that I integrate into everything I design as an artist. The work is deeply imbued with meaning.’

ØFFERINGS will present UnitePlayPerform Universe workshops daily during the Festival.

More than 35,000 people are expected to attend Riverfest X, which takes place along the riverbank and surrounded by the natural and built heritage-listed Quay Street in the heart of Rockhampton.

The Fitzroy River (Tunuba) was once the primary life-source for the Darumbal people in the time of Dreaming. It has evolved over the years to meet a variety of needs for the growing region, including agriculture, domestic and commercial fishing, water sports and recreation, mining, as an ecosystem for local wildlife and a major tourism drawcard.

Riverfest X, the tenth anniversary edition of the Rockhampton River Festival, is presented by the Rockhampton Regional Council and Advance Rockhampton. Entry to the festival is free with some ticketed shows. The Festival runs from 26-28 July 2024.

Learn more about the Riverfest X program

Dr Diana Carroll is a writer, speaker, and reviewer based in Adelaide. Her work has been published in newspapers and magazines including the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, Woman's Day, and B&T. Writing about the arts is one of her great passions.