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The growing cultural cache of Launceston

The growing cultural cache of Launceston

Habitus editor Aleesha Callahan was on the ground in Launceston for the recent Mona Foma festival – catch up on what went down, and how the city is starting to be revitalised with redevelopment on the horizon.

Anything attached to the renegade gallery Mona comes with the sort of reverence and respect that marks it as the ‘next big thing’. Whether staging large-scale events like Dark Mofo or the summer version Mona Foma, or curating new collections (or even wine for that matter), the Mona team continue to forge ahead doing cool shit without much regard for what anyone thinks.

The Old Tafe building

Mona Foma, the annual summer music and arts festival, operates like somewhat of a gypsy, never fixed to a single place of residence, but rather popping up at site-specific spots across Tasmania. This year the Launceston edition was held in the Old Tafe building – an early 20th-century brick building with a central quadrangle, which property developer Red Panda recently acquired.

Full of heritage, the site is about to be redeveloped into an all-new precinct for Launceston, set to include a boutique hotel, hospitality offerings and luxury apartments. If all goes to plan, it will become a beacon of culture and design within Launceston.

In the meantime, the empty carcass presented an opportune backdrop to play host to Mona Foma for 2023; and the building’s interiors were a near-perfect time capsule of Australiana office aesthetics meets 1980s Dynasty décor.

The site was gifted by Red Panda founder Andrew McCullagh for the festival’s use, which is a reflection of his passion for building community and supporting cultural initiatives. As a born and bred Tassie local, McCullagh has deep roots in the community and a passion for cultural initiatives and sparking tourism to the island.

The program – as to be expected – was eclectic and experimental, from immersive art and video installations to punk and orchestral music performances. Some of the standouts were Yirinda, a musical act that fuses Indigenous storytelling by Butchulla man Fred Leone with modern multi-instrumentalist Samuel Pankhurst. Leone had the crowd enraptured with Dreamtime stories, explaining the connection to the history and meaning of the songs. Yirinda, in fact, means ‘Now’ in Butchulla, which feels both poetic and fitting for such an event.

Expressive and exploding with fun, The Queer Woodchop by Pony Express was an extravaganza to strap in and go for a ride. In the vein of a country show-style wood-chopping competition, it was part sporting-showcase, part comedy performance and all-around campy as hell.

Welcome to Country

As with many events of this nature, it’s the unplanned moments of kismet that tend to stick in your memory. Walking into the crescendo of the Lost In Place performance, with the jazz band, I Hold the Lion’s Paw and dancers Yumi Umiumare and Taka Takiguchi was exactly that unexpected surprise. Experiencing the totally carefree ending to this durational performance that fuses music and dance in a sweaty, heady finale was transcendent. 

With its unconventional approach to programming and emphasis on sustainability and inclusivity, Mona Foma cements its place as a festival that is truly at the forefront of contemporary arts and culture. And our eyes are glued to how the Old Tafe building’s shell will be transformed by Red Panda in the future.

Mona Foma

Photography courtesy Mona.

The Queer Woodchop
Prayer by James Webb
Song of the Seawitch by Marnie Weber


Aleesha Callahan is the editor of Habitus. Based in Melbourne, Australia, Aleesha seeks out the unique people, projects and products that define the Indo Pacific region. Aleesha was previously the editor of Indesignlive.com and has written and contributed to various publications and brands in her 10 years in the architecture and design industry, bringing intimate insight to her stories having first trained and practised as an interior designer. Her passion for mid-century design and architecture began while living and working in Berlin.