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9th International Vegan Festival, 1999 - Australia

9th International Vegan Festival Report

December 25 1998 - January 1 1999 - Australia
By Ralph Blake.

Organized by Zalan Glen Continental Guest House, Hepburn Springs, Victoria, Australia

The festival was held at Hepburn Springs in Central Victoria from December 25 1998 until January 1 1999. There was an extended program for those who wished to stay longer through to January 9 1999. The festival theme was one of Health and Healing enabling one to indulge and substantiate ones own personal growth. A rare totally vegan event, with scores of other vegans from all parts of Australia and around the world.

A full program with varied and interesting, local, national and international speakers was offered, covering many of the major vegan topics of interest, with a focus on healthy living. There was a peaceful, creative and stimulating children's program together with créche facility.

The chef for the festival was Alexis Pitsopoulos, whose culinary delights have been savoured by locals and tourists to this region for the last 7 years, also catering for the two previous Hepburn Springs Regional Festivals. The menu, which will be concentrated around fresh local quality produce plus a delightful selection from as far away as the tropical North of Australia, will ensure a healthy vegan extravaganza.

Hepburn Springs and nearby Daylesford form the centre of a mineral springs area which has become known as the Spa Centre of Australia. The late December summer climate was usually pleasant warm to hot days, (above 30'C), with cooler nights (down to 15'C), and occasionally rain.

Beautiful bush walks with State Forest walking tracks abound with a number of swimming sites at local lakes and waterholes. Local masseurs and facilities were available to complement the host of talented vegan attendees. Numerous regional tourist destinations were readily accessible.

Here is an eyewitness report from Ralph Blake:

I had heard about the Vegan Festival many months before it was to be held.

The only things I knew were that it was about veganism and I would have the opportunity to meet other vegans. Even the day before I went there I still didn't really know what it might be like. So I decided my expectations should be not to have any expectations. In that way I couldn't be disappointed!

Continental House, in Hepburn Springs, was to be my home for the next week or so. It's an old rambling guest house that reminded me of the kind of place my grandparents might have stayed when they went on holiday. I arrived in time for Christmas lunch and there were already a lot of people there.

I was amazed at the variety of the food available. And all vegan! No need to ask silly questions like "Does this have any meat, dairy or eggs in it?" - What a joyous way to celebrate Christmas. Delicious food and making new friends.

As I mingled at the dinner table I realised there were people from almost all states of Australia, and from overseas as well. Other countries represented included: Austria, UK, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Germany, USA, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Canada. New faces were seen throughout the week so there would have been about 150 people who participated in the festival. An excellent turnout.

There were many activities to participate in during the week. Lectures were held every day on various topics of interest to vegans. Rene Beresford gave a very inspiring lecture about the spirituality of a raw food diet. Patty Marks presented a horrifying and emotional account of the plight of chickens, pigs and cows at the hands of factory farmers. We were also heartened by Laurie Levy and the successes of the anti-duck shooting coalition. Wayne John gave an interesting lecture about vegan bush foods, and we even got to try some. I'd never even heard of these foods before!

Other notable lectures included "Nature Cure", "Living Foods", and "Creative Thinking" and many more too numerous to mention. Dr Klaper, who could not join us in person, gave a special greeting and his best wishes via video. There were also some food preparation demonstrations. Apple slice and carrot and ginger soup were my favourites - quick and easy to make and absolutely delicious.

We went for walks in the morning and had yoga classes every afternoon so as not to feel too stiff and sore from sitting down during the day. In the evenings we did circle dancing and singing, and socialised and partied on at the Continental House disco. One night we were treated to a live performance of some beautiful music by Heather and Kim.

The Writers Forum, facilitated by David Horton and Alex Bourke, gave us lots of information about writing and publishing books, particularly those about veganism. I became involved in the production of a play written by David and we spent many hours rehearsing and enhancing the script before its performance on New Years Eve. I was really excited about this because I had never before been an actor in a play.

On New Year's Eve we had an excellent party. There were many performances of music, poetry, acting, dancing and singing. It was a lot of fun being in the audience and also participating in the evening's entertainment. The music rocked on and we saw in the new year with much joy and optimism. It was a very special celebration for me, as I felt totally free to be myself.

A lot of new friends left after the first week of the festival but some people, including myself, decided to stay on for another week. The second week was very relaxing compared to the hectic pace of the preceding week. Plenty of time to just do as one pleased. We had a few lectures and workshops only when we felt like it. Emanuel, an organic farmer from Austria, presented a very comprehensive series of workshops on the theory and practice of growing food. We got to build a garden bed, plant it, and made a compost heap as well. We also had plenty of time to relax with yoga, meditation, swimming, reading, playing games or just going for a stroll.

Khadi, 7, and I had a chess tournament, and she beat me two games to one! For a bit of variety we had a day trip to Mt Franklin and Castlemaine where a scrumptious lunch was had at the Screaming Carrot Cafe.

At the end of the second week I returned to my home in Melbourne, not quite the same person as when I left. I'm a lot more confident about my vegan lifestyle and I now have lots of friends with whom I can share veganism.

Before I was pretty much on my own. There's so many more things I want to do now, like writing and becoming more of an activist. It's like a feeling of joy and love inside of me that is strong and unstoppable, even more than when I first decided to be vegan.

On behalf of everyone who joined the festival, I would like to thank Zalan for organising an absolutely fantastic event. It was a difficult and sometimes thankless task, but I'm sure his efforts have been well rewarded.

Thanks also to Alexis and all of the kitchen staff. They prepared such beautiful meals with dedication and love. It was a pleasure to enjoy them, especially the desserts. Never thought I'd be eating chocolate cake again!

Lastly, thanks to everyone who gave the lectures and workshops; without them we would not have had the opportunity to learn and grow in new directions.

I loved every minute of it! Hope to see you all at the next vegan festival.

Ralph Blake.

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