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Cultural progress in a rural community: the Swan Hill Shakespeare Festival

posted on 2023-05-24, 05:08 authored by Katherine Darian-SmithKatherine Darian-Smith, Nichols, D, Grant, J
In April 1973, Rupert Hamer, premier of Victoria and the state’s minister for the arts, opened the 26th Swan Hill Shakespeare Festival at the town of Swan Hill, located on the Murray River. There was, Hamer claimed, a bright future for the festival. With increased leisure time, Australians could now enjoy and assist in the contemporary ‘blossoming of the arts: visual, plastic and performing’. He acknowledged the ‘vision and courage’ of Marjorie McLeod, the local speech teacher, director and playwright who had founded this, ‘the fi rst, and only, Shakespeare festival in Australia’. Such efforts were to be emulated, Hamer insisted: other country towns ‘can and should be doing this’. 2 The Shakespeare festival had been tentatively launched under McLeod’s aegis in 1947. It proved so successful that on New Year’s Day 1950 Swan Hill mayor Alan Garden chaired a public meeting which resolved the town would actively promote an annual festival. The district director of education and principals from local schools were among those in favour, refl ecting the entrenched belief among Australian educationalists in the civilising effects of English literature and the importance of studying Shakespeare. 3 Support quickly extended well beyond town offi cials, teachers and other professionals. By 1955, the popularity of the Shakespeare festival had reached such a height that its opening was attended by 5,000 people, a number equal to Swan Hill’s entire population. 4 Various Shakespearean activities extended over a week, with performances, play readings and a ball.


Publication title

Cultural Sustainability in Rural Communities: Rethinking Australian Country Towns


Driscoll, C, Darian-Smith, K, and Nichols, D






College Office - College of Arts, Law and Education



Place of publication

United Kingdom



Rights statement

Copyright 2017 selection and editorial matter, Catherine Driscoll, Kate Darian-Smith and David Nichols; individual chapters, the contributors

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