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Down the Track – June 2021

Jo Nixon tells us the origin story of the infamous Alice Springs Beanie Festival. It began with her aunty in Darwin who came to Alice to teach literacy, language and numeracy in Indigenous communities. She would knit beanies during classes and soon found the women exclaiming, “we want to make beanies, not learn numbers!”

By Zoya Godoroja-Prieckaerts

And so they made beanies.

Jo’s aunt returned to Darwin with a big bag of beanies and no idea what to do with them. In the end, she brought them back to Alice where they were sold at Witchety’s, and ever since, the Alice Springs Beanie Festival has slowly grown to what it is now – a long-weekend program of workshops, exhibitions and opportunities to make, buy and sell beanies.

Today the festival is made up of 7000 beanies, 500 beanie-makers and 120 volunteers from across the globe. In its 25th year, they continue their original mission to provide opportunities for remote Indigenous communities, whether that means hosting workshops out bush or bringing people in to town for the festival.

This year, they’ve run workshops in Titjikala, Santa Teresa, Ampilatwatja, Yuendumu and Tennant Creek. The weekend is a big hug-fest with friendly faces – new and old – and a warm loving energy permeating throughout.

As always, Beanie Central is the main arena with thousands of beanies on display and for sale. There are plenty of workshops too, from eco-printing to felting with Indigenous women of Central Australia. The National Beanie Competition is made up of 14 categories with prizes relating to technique, concepts, materials and more. It’s an array of colours, patterns and people frantically trying on these beauties to find their perfect match. With so much to feast your eyes on and get your hands making there’s truly something for everyone.

Having spent half her life running beanie festivals, Jo is excited to be celebrating its 25th anniversary.

“I can’t believe we got this far!”

The theme this year is Yarning Myths and Legends, which feels fitting when we think about reaching milestones and time passing. In achieving all that it has over this last quarter of a century, we’d go as far as saying that the Beanie Fest, itself, is a bit of a legend.

Alice Springs Beanie Festival

Thumbnail and header: Jo Nixon

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