Celebrating 70 years of Perth Festival
Take a look back at our festival highlights!
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following article contains images and names of people who have died.
Founded on Whadjuk Noongar Boodja, Perth Festival has built an incredible legacy as Australia’s longest-running curated arts festival. For our platinum anniversary, we’re looking back at the world-class events that have shaped our festival’s history and we extend our gratitude to those who came before us to ensure that the festival remains an exciting and inspiring occasion for the people of Western Australia.
From our Somerville Opening in 1953 to Highway to Hell in 2020, let's reflect on some of the most memorable events that we’ve brought to WA in anticipation of bringing you many more exhilarating moments in the future.
Performance of Richard III at UWA Somerville Auditorium, 1953
Our first-ever festival launched on January 3, 1953 to a season of staged plays including Perth Repertory Club’s production of Dark of the Moon at UWA’s Sunken Gardens and British director Michael Langham’s production of Richard III. Audiences would also be treated to international films and concerts of new Australian music performed by the West Australian Symphony Orchestra under the stars at the UWA Somerville.
Fremantle Arts Centre, 1966
In an Australia first, festival-goers were treated to a sound-and-light spectacular at the Old Fremantle Asylum, now known as Fremantle Arts Centre. This innovative use of the derelict building helped inspire its conversion into the Fremantle Arts Centre.
Official opening of Perth Concert Hall, 1973. Courtesy Perth History Centre Collection
The Festival celebrated its 20th anniversary with the opening of the new Perth Concert Hall with a televised live broadcast of WA and international talent. The then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam led the dignitaries at the official opening, which included a Midnight to Dawn Ball and televised performances by WA Symphony Orchestra and South Australian Symphony Orchestra.
Peter Brook’s 'The Mahabharata'
The Festival took over the Boya Quarry in the Perth Hills to create a magnificent amphitheatre for Peter Brook’s dusk-to-dawn English dramatisation of the Indian folk epic The Mahabharata.
Bran Nue Dae cast, 1990. Courtesy of Museum of Performing Arts WA
A rambunctious musical theatre show from Broome called Bran Nue Dae is one of the hits of the 1990 Festival. Directed by Andrew Ross and written by Broome’s Jimmy Chi with his band Kuckles, Bran Nue Dae is the first Aboriginal musical and the catalyst for the formation of the Black Swan State Theatre Company.
Inspired by Chi’s own life, Bran Nue Dae is an electrifying cross-cultural celebration of music, dance, place and people.
Merce Cunningham Dance Company performance at Cottesloe Beach, 2001. Image cr. Jon Green
The first festival in the new millennium saw Merce Cunningham return for the first time in 25 years with six Australian premieres across three nights, with one epic performance staged as a free family sunset event on Cottesloe Beach.
The Inside of Australia installation by Anthony Gormley, 2003.
Perth Festival commissioned The Inside of Australia installation by British sculptor Antony Gormley. A mesmerising series of steel figures stand on a remote salt lake. The installation garnered global attention to Lake Ballard, 100km north of Kalgoorlie.
Ngallak Koort Boodja – Our Heart Land canvas, 2006.
On opening night, Noongar artists led Australia’s biggest contemporary Welcome to Country and the unveiling of the epic Ngallak Koort Boodja - Our Heart Land canvas. The concept of the major artwork was to unite all 14 Noongar clan groups of the Noongar nation, with the project unfolding over three years.
Cate Blanchett in The War of the Roses, 2009.
The Festival had top billing with the world premiere season of the Sydney Theatre Company’s ambitious new staging of Shakespeare's The War of the Roses, starring academy award-winning Australian actress Cate Blanchett.
The Giants girl puppet in Perth's CBD, 2015. Image cr. Toni Wilkinson
A three-day spectacle saw more than 1.4 million people walk the streets of Perth with The Giants. French company Royal de Luxe pulled the strings on the giant six-metre tall Little Girl and 11-metre tall Deep-sea Diver as they enacted an extraordinary story to mark the Anzac centenary.
Boorna Waanginy installation, 2017. Image cr. Rachael Barrett
More than 100,000 visitors flock to Kings Park and Botanic Gardens for the opening event Boorna Waanginy: The Trees Speak to experience an audio-visual feast of Noongar culture and Western Australia’s biodiversity. Noongar knowledge inspired, the breath-taking free event held over three nights saw Kings Park magically transformed into a cathedral of light, sound and imagery.
Highway to Hell Performance, 2020. Image cr. Cam Campbell
145,000 people reclaimed a 10km stretch of Canning Highway as a massive community carnival ground for the free day-long Festival Finale and Bon Scott tribute, Highway to Hell. Visitors saw local and visiting bands perform AC/DC classics on the back of flatbed trucks that rocked and rolled from Canning Bridge to Fremantle.