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A Short and Chilly Look at Dark Mofo -


Dark Mofo livens up the Winter Night

Dark Mofo has been back for a couple of years now, but it's the first time I've been down since the pandemic began. Once again, the buildings glow red, laughter spills from bars and restaurants, fire balls erupt from the cones outside the hall and tents where the Winter Feasts are held and strange sounds and sights wake Hobart from its winter sleep.


The Bridge makes a red arc over the river. A stream of red taillights snakes its way past red buildings as I hurry to catch up to the procession. I had had a hard time finding a parking spot and had missed the start and I now have to scramble after people in puffer jackets – the Tasmanian Tuxedo (thanks for that ABC), rushing purposefully towards the old industrial site where the burning is to take place. 

From afar I thought this year’s effigy was of a large corpulent person on a slab which conjured up some interesting thoughts – capitalists consumed in the feast perhaps, but as I got closer it turned out to be a gigantic platypus which was to be consigned to the flames. A lot of people complained about that and thought it was terribly wrong, but I interpreted it to mean that that’s what we are doing to our wildlife as temperatures rise. No doubt others have their own explanation. I never did see anything in the papers about it.

 I get there just as fire begins to rain from the sky to start the burning and soon the platypus is nothing more than a mighty glow in the dark, the rising smoke supposedly carrying with it all our grief, sins and hopes to the heavens.The burning is also supposed to drive away evil spirits and I'm pretty sure it's done a good job of that.


The festival seems smaller this year. There are fewer free installations and fewer food vans -a reflection of the times perhaps, and there were long queues everywhere. I didn’t even try to get into any of the paid venues. Prices have gone up substantially on previous years too, starting at about $49 per head with the mysterious Doll House showing $0 – 599 depending on which rooms you went into. However, several venues such as the Winter Feast were still booked out well in advance despite having several sittings as was the nude dawn Solstice swim which apparently attracted over 2000 masochists this year, though I'm not  I'm not among them.

Festivals like this, and particularly Dark Mofo with its red crosses and pagan symbolism -always come in for their share of opprobrium – in fact they thrive on it – that’s Mona’s schtick as well. (Mona is David Walsh’s other baby – The Museum of Modern Art, Sex and Death). Shock ‘em first and they’ll be back for more along with a lot of other people. This time it was the "Welcome to Hell" sign at Hobart airport. Before that it was the upside -down crosses and the public butchering of a bull. There are always protests. “It should be banned!” “Why does the Council allow it,” scream the letters to the editor, but really, if you are appalled at being shown a bit of humanity’s dark side, don’t come. One thing you can be sure of. Dark Mofo will always be different and pushing boundaries.


Narrunya looks different by night


It reminds me of Fasching in Germany. This used to be a Catholic Festival like Carnivale which permitted feasting and a hint of licentiousness before the start of Lent, but now it’s all about dressing up, going out for the night and letting your hair down a bit. The rest of the time Germans are amongst the most reserved and law – abiding citizens anywhere, with the possible exception of Hobartians and the Japanese. To me it's a circuit breaker to stop me thinking about the human condition or other dark thoughts. I like this quote from Christopher Hitchens, 

"If people are determined to be offended -if they will climb up on the ladder, balancing it precariously on their own toilet cistern to be upset by what they see through the neighbour's bathroom window - there's nothing you can do about that."

If people really need to protest the evils of the world, I propose starting with those who profess to be Christians but are OK with child abuse or exploiting the poor. Or maybe those who are really turning the place into hell on earth. One smiling group here is protesting the gassing of pigs, but they aren’t stopping people going into the eatery offering hand – pulled, slow cooked pork. I pass some buskers doing an amazing version of Pink Floyd’s “Put another Brick in the Wall” but I hurry on fearing I’ll snap freeze if I linger a moment longer on the ocean -going side of the wharf.


For many it's a family night out with Mums pushing strollers and Dads carrying toddlers on their shoulders

It's too early to go home and I haven’t run into anyone I know to have a coffee or a drink with, so I wander over to the little fish punt down on the dock and order some chips – my own personal illicit Winter Feast which I'll probably regret in the morning. There’s a long wait and there are lots of bundled up children around. Their eyes are shining and their voices are shrill with excitement. You can tell they love being out after dark and watching things burn. Bushfires aside, humans have been enjoying that since they were sitting in caves and drawing on the walls.

I find a sheltered spot between the punts to eat my chips. The red obelisks of Mawson Place blink on and off across the water and the waves slap, slap softly against the fish punts moving gently on their moorings. A man sits down at the opposite end of the bench, pulls his hoodie down over his head and looks as if he’s about to go to sleep. I still have quite lot of chips left, so ask him if he’s homeless. He roars with laughter. No, he says. He’s waiting for his wife who’s in the food queue, but he’s exhausted from all the events and still has a few more to go. That’s Dark Mofo for you. I regret that my ability to stay up all night has somewhat diminished as I wouldn't have minded a peek in the Doll House or the place ominously named Doom.

Reluctantly, but suitably fortified for the 2 km walk, I head back up the hill to where I parked my car. That’s me done for this year. Melbourne may have its White Nights. Sydney may have its Mardi Gras, but only Hobart has Dark Mofo.