Sydney comes to life in summer. It is a glorious city, no matter what time of year but in the summer, we have long days, warm nights, hot beaches, and the biggest party in all of Australia: The Sydney Festival.

Sydney Festival – Everyone, Every Year

Every January, over three weeks, the Sydney Festival creates the most amazing and inclusive collection of everything Sydney holds dear. “SydFest” (as it is better known) is primarily an arts festival with a very broad interpretation of the word “art.”

Imagine a museum filled with displays of everything that makes Sydney… Sydney. A museum that includes information on: the indigenous cultures that have existed for tens of thousands of years; the cultural roots of the colonists who arrived in 1788; and the contributions of migrants in Australia, who create the melting pot of multiculturalism we have today.

Now, imagine that museum wants you to ride to the moon! Jump to the stars! Dance all night to the most colorful disco tunes! With theater, dance, music, cabaret, circus and lectures, this is not just a museum; it is a festival! A festival so big, it takes in all of the community and moves the party outside. It’s the Sydney Festival.

2019: Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing

With so many performances and artworks, it’s impossible to participate in everything. I have been attending SydFest for a few years and I always start with the outdoor installations. For me, SydFest is a Summer Festival and for that, you need to take advantage of the season.

Looking for astronauts. Photo: Ann-Marie Cahill
Photo: Ann-Marie Cahill

This year, I took my kids first to the waterfront neighborhood of Barangaroo to hunt for astronauts. The outdoor art installation is part of the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing, an achievement gained from a collective cultural ambition shared around the world. The Sydney Festival organizers brought this theme to life across various outdoor installations. Most of the space-themed art was free and easily accessible; the perfect day activities for kids during the summer school holidays.

You may be wondering why an Australian city would be celebrating the moon landing. My short answer would be: “Watch The Dish,” an Australian film that slightly exaggerates the contribution our radio telescopes made to NASA for the moon landing. In truth, Australia played an important part in the transmission of images from the moon, thanks to our prime location at the time of the landing. This was a significant step for the world as a community, bringing together the skills and resources of many people across many nations and cultures. And that’s exactly what SydFest is bringing to Sydney; a festival of diverse stories and cultures for the entire community.

I am proud to say my family found all 11 of the astronaut sculptures, including the two cooling off in the water. These larger-than-life Sydmonauts are quite striking, standing like Titans amongst the cafes and restaurants. Each of them stands out in bright orange, yet oddly, they also feel like they have always been there. My kids loved posing with them and talking about the diverse heroes they represented. SydFest is a cultural celebration, and the outdoor art installations are no different. For this collection, each of the Sydmonauts commemorates the achievements of an unsung hero in space travel. Some of them you might have heard of; like Michael Collins, the third astronaut of the Apollo 11 mission who had to stay inside. Some of them are relatively unknown, like Kirsten Banks, a Wiradjuri woman and science prodigy advocating for the inclusion of Australian Indigenous knowledge of astronomy.

Walking On The Moon

With visions of space travel dancing in our heads, we continued our walk down to Darling Harbour to seek out the Moon Drops. This public art installation is made up of huge water-filled sacks, perfect for simulating a walk on the moon. Or a jump on the moon. Most of the kids (and some adults) were using these giant Moon Drops to do flips and somersault across the surface, just like the astronauts in 1969.

This is the beauty of the Sydney Festival: fantastic opportunities to celebrate a theme, like space travel. The artwork invited people to participate and explore the experience of doing the ‘real thing.’ In the morning, you could see kids of all genders, cultures, and ages pretending to be Neil Armstrong as they jumped around on the Moon Drops. In the afternoon, these same “water beds” were taken up by adults, lying back and chilling out in the refreshing breeze coming in over the harbor.

Jumping on a moon drop at SydFest 2019. Photo: Ann-Marie Cahill
Photo: Ann-Marie Cahill

Fly Me to the Moon

After stopping for ice cream to replenish our energy, we continued our space-walk to World Square, another art installation that required plenty of physical energy from its participants. Again it highlighted the beauty of SydFest, which lies in the way it encourages you to become part of the art. At World Square, we found an installation called Fly Me To The Moon, a collective project for everyone to contribute his or her bike-riding efforts towards the target of 384,400 kilometers (approximately 238,855 miles), the distance traveled by Apollo 11 to the Moon. There are plenty of stationary bikes available for you to add the kilometers, but this is an art festival. You know we are going to do it in style.

Introducing the Lunar Velocipede:

This is a rickshaw bike with giant wings. And it is marvelous. When we were riding it, we felt like we were flying on our bikes.

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One Big Street Party

The whole point of SydFest is to celebrate our community. Celebrating the moon landing is not the only communal theme; the organizers have also included a diverse range of theatre and musical acts that tell amazing stories about family and community. There are also fireworks every Saturday night, moonlit movies every night, and wildly colorful dance parties late at night.  Essentially, the Sydney Festival is one big street party to celebrate summer. Only our street runs through the heart of Sydney City. Just like our festival.

Festival goer having a rest on a moon rock in between activities. Photo: Ann-Marie Cahill
Festival goer having a rest on a moon rock in between activities. Photo: Ann-Marie Cahill