Though there seems to be exhibitions, fairs and festivals on almost every second weekend in Sydney, for this long one we’re suggesting a little out-of-town expedition to the Blue Mountains region – to Mt Tomah to be exact – to witness the splendour of our state’s floral emblem, the iconic waratah.
The Wild About Waratahs Festival, which runs this weekend at the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden, is a celebration of waratahs in the wild. The program features a waratah bloom competition, displays, growing advice, volunteer guided walks of the garden's waratah collection, National Parks and Wildlife guided walks, waratah farm open day, information panels and plant sales.
This year’s special guest is Australian fauna and flora enthusiast, Jenny Kee. With a career spanning 50 years in fashion and textile design, Kee lives in the Blue Mountains where she paints, surrounded by her inspiration. Speaking of her near-death experience in the horrific 1977 Granville rail disaster, Kee tells us that out of this “came an explosion of creativity”.
“I began painting – sitting at the kitchen table in the mountains, with black ink and colour, making shapes and patterns. It was my therapy. “
For Kee, an avid environmentalist, the waratah is her totem – the symbol of her fiery emotions. “I live surrounded by native bushland that is frequently ravaged by fires. After fire, waratahs explode into bloom from their bed of ashes, their big crimson hearts opening to the sun. I am always astonished that such beauty can spring from such devastation… I see waratahs as the essence of fire – from the destruction comes rebirth.”
This passion for the waratah has inspired her colour palette for over 30 years, leading to a series of paintings that are then carefully replicated in beautiful, bias cut silk scarves. Describing her latest collection as her renaissance, Kee tells us that collaging her art on the magical silk square is the essence of what she does.
“Small and beautiful is what I’m all about and it feels perfect for this moment in time… My new series of scarves has been a joy to realise, creating flowing objects of beauty inspired by the nature of Oz. This has been my passion for over 30 years and it’s amazing to come full circle. Here I am bringing back the classic 30s bias style scarf we wore in the 60s, with my designs from the 80s into 2012!”
And she’s bringing it back in style, as displayed at this year’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week where Kee showcased seminal works from 1980 to 2012. The project saw her collaborating with Sydney designers, Romance was Born, who Kee sees as kindred spirits.
“Anna and Luke bring a young beat to my work…we are meshed in a wonderful energetic dance! I love their rhythm. We love working together. We fire off each other, just as Linda and I did in the 70s. We styled the show in a joyous and moving tribute…I just love them!”
In a recreation of Kee’s Fashion Week display, her scarves will be hanging from gum tree branches in the Visitor Centre for the duration of the Festival.
This Saturday September 29, Kee will be introducing her new range of waratah-inspired scarves in the Blue Mountains.
Wild About Waratahs Festival
Dates: September 29 to October 7
Time: 9am to 5:30pm (9.30am on weekends and public holidays)
Cost: Free entry
Where: Visitor Centre, Blue Mountains Botanic Garden, Mt Tomah
Phone: (02) 4567 3000