Embrace spontaneous encounters at tropical festival

The 60th Cairns Festival is a unique chance to catch Patricia Piccinini’s hot air balloons, music from classical to indie-pop, and a live-on-stage truth or lie performance, all in one city.

The new Courthouse Gallery presents a series of provoking exhibitions and events for Cairns Festival. Image supplied.

North Queensland’s largest growing arts and cultural festival, Cairns Festival, returns for its 60th Anniversary showcasing a breadth of music, theatre, art, film and comedy. 

A celebration of Cairns’ rich diversity, the festival kicks off on 26 August with an immersive laser and light experience, Reef Light, at the iconic Esplanade. 

Designed to exemplify Cairns’ colourful lifestyle and connection to the Great Barrier Reef, Reef Light takes visitors under the sea, combining the natural and the magical, in an extraordinary experience.

The walkable city comes alive with the Grand Parade on 27 August, featuring an array of live performances for both the young and young at heart, while Patricia Piccinini’s Skywhale and Skywhalepapa will fill the skies with wonder on 3 September. 

The festival spotlights local talents including textile designer and artist Francoise Lane, who will show projections at the Cairns City Library façade, while the tunes of Gold Coast musician Amy Shark and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra will ring across Tanks Arts Centre and Munro Martin Parklands. 

The historic Tanks Arts Centre will further host performances including Aftermath, by Australasian Dance Collective with acclaimed composer Danny Harley’s live score, and charming singer songwriter Alex the Astronaut with her wordplay though tunes.

Newly opened, the Court House Gallery will showcase Cairns Festival Turns 60, a photo exhibition documenting the joys that the event has brought since the 1960s. True to its courthouse heritage, visitors can also encounter Truthmachine, an award-winning social experiment where participants are hooked up to a biometric lie detector, and whose fate will lie in the hands of fellow audience members.  

The new Courthouse Gallery presents a series of provoking exhibitions and events for Cairns Festival. Image supplied.

For those wanting to enjoy a program beneath the stars, bring your picnic blanket as the Court House front lawn stages Lady Valiant, Ally Row, Kaweyova and Phat Earth Theory for a live music feast alongside a comedic guest appearance from electronic organ salesman Barry Morgan.  

Extending the action from the lawn to the streets is enigmatic hostess Aphrodite, whose hot pink mobile stage will interview those ranging from local hero to well-known celebrities. 

For some good laughs about our shared struggles during lockdowns, join comedy countesses Denise Scott and Judith Lucy in a theatrical stand-up, Still Here at Cairns Performing Arts Centre (CPAC). 

Be prepared to tune in to your curiosity and celebrate Cairns Festival’s diamond jubilee across 10 exhilarating days, with the breadth of events around every corner across a city where the sun meets the sand. 

Cairns Festival runs from 26 August – 4 September with a record of 78 events. Find out more and plan your trip

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. Most recently she took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne.