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Fed Folk

Virtual Arts and Culture

Stories from the people who work, walk and play at Fed Square

Have you ever wondered what stories lie under the surface of Fed Square? Who the people are that you walk past and what’s going on in their lives? Well, we’ve got a fun new segment for you: Fed Folk. Each week, we’ll catch up with a person who works, walks or plays here at Fed Square. It could be a journalist from SBS or a curator from the Koori Heritage Trust or someone who eats their lunch here every day – it could be you! So, watch out for us in the Square, as we’ll be on the lookout!

And if you’ve got a story to tell, tag us on Instagram with #FedFolk and we may be in touch!

Meet Karin Traegar, CEO of Yarra Riverkeepers Association and ultra marathon runner

We caught up with Karin in recovery mode, after she ran the full length of the Yarra from source to sea, stopping by Fed Square on her way through – 280km over six days, starting on World Rivers Day, 25 September. Woah! We talked with Karin about what inspired her to take on this huge challenge and what she learnt.

Hi Karin, tell is a little bit about yourself.

I’m the CEO for the Yarra Riverkeeper Association. I was involved within the organisation before working there, as a volunteer. I was organising events that involved running and picking up rubbish.

Originally I’m from Chile. I’ve been in Australia working in the conservation space for the last 15 years now. I’m very passionate about conservation, about wildlife. I used to be a wildlife vet back home.

I’m really passionate about sharing my love for the environment with community, either by running or doing cleanup events or in any other way.

Karin, you’ve just done this mammoth epic run of 280 kilometers down the Yarra River. Tell us about how that came about.

Yeah, that crazy idea!

I have been doing ultra running for the last five years. Ultra running is any distance that goes over the marathon distance, which is 42 kilometres.

I thought: is there any way that I can use this rare, weird superpower of being able to run a long time in a way that benefits something bigger than me?

In 2020 when I started my role at Yarra Riverkeepers, I thought, maybe this is going to be a really good fit: that I can eventually run from source to sea.

I had a couple of friends that helped me out with a few tracks and mapping and then I just started spending almost every second weekend going up into the Yarra Catchment and running or hiking and mapping, like a lockdown project. I mean, people were baking banana bread, I was mapping stuff on Google Maps.

And after all, if no one has done it, it’s a really a great milestone – not just for me, but also representing the Yarra Riverkeeper Association.

It’s very much linked to the whole outdoors experience – trying to bring people into nature. You don’t have to run 280K though, but you can just experience so much stuff in the Catchment that many people don’t even realise.

And I thought, this is the best way how we can show people where the river starts, show people: this is where our drinking water comes from. And take them on the journey to show them all the really amazing things that we have.

As a female runner, I feel like there’s not a lot of representation of women doing these sorts of things. That was my own personal reason too: how can I show other women that you can do some crazy stuff and it can be really cool.

What other kinds of preparation did you have to do to be able to run this length of distance over six days?

I had never done something like this before. There’s a similar concept called multiday stage running, but for me it was a whole new picture.

I started trialing nutrition, going on hikes and seeing what actually worked for me out in the outdoors, if I’m carrying very little. I needed to know how much I really needed to eat to keep fueling. Because of course, you’re moving all day, so you need a lot of food: very calorie dense food.

Then well, the whole logistics of who’s going to be driving the car, who was going to meet me where. I tried to find access points where my friends could supply me with things. That was a bit of a Hail Mary, because from my experience running the trail, I knew what was accessible, but then I wasn’t sure it was going to work on the day – but if it doesn’t work then we’ve got a plan B and then a plan C and a plan D, so, I’ll just keep running until I hopefully find people or food.

How was the experience seeing the river change over the six days? Did you see things you’d never seen before? What was it like?

The whole experience for me was amazing. It was a really healing project, and with the lockdowns over the last few years, I think a lot of people lost focus on what they were doing in life. So, this really brought me back to basics – dedicating that whole week to reconnecting to the river, and to be able to share that experience with friends and other people in the community.

Then from the river perspective, I mean it was so beautiful and I wish more people did similar things or they at least went to explore the upper parts of the Yarra. I feel like a lot of people don’t really know what’s up there, that’s why they don’t really go there.

You start behind Mount Baw Baw, which is all Mountain Ash trees and pristine forest. And then you go into Warburton and Reefton. You can really immerse yourself in nature and the magic of the catchment. You can see echidnas and plenty of native birds, cockatoos, parrots. It is a really nice spot that’s not too far from Melbourne.

For me it was really extreme to transition from pristine forest into the urban, very populated city and changing the canopy of the trees for the canopy of the buildings.

So that was quite a funny comparison we were doing: “Oh, we were looking up two days ago and it was all trees. And now we looking up, it’s all power lines and bridges.”

One of the things that really concerned me was that I wasn’t expecting to find polystyrene pollution so far up the river. When I went down to Mount Lofty, which is close to Warrandyte, there was already polystyrene fragments in the riverbank.

That’s sad because if it’s so out there in the middle of nowhere. I’m assuming it comes from construction.

We’ve been seeing the same trend in the city: construction is the main polluter, with the polystyrene slabs for insulation. I’m assuming that because people are developing in the upper Yarra, maybe that’s going down creeks and other waterways and feeding into the river.

Karin stopped through Fed Square on day six of her epic 280km source to sea Run the Riverkeeper run.

What, from a wildlife perspective or other environmental perspectives, are the problems with this kind of pollution?

There are duck-billed platypus in the middle and upper Yarra, so if you keep polluting the waterway, of course they’re going to be impacted. They might eat the polystyrene or they might eat things that eat the polystyrene. That’s the main concern: how much of that plastic load in the river is going to affect animals.

We didn’t see a lot of wildlife in the upper and middle parts of the river, but I assume that’s because there’s so much space for them, so you can’t spot them. And interestingly enough the last day, which is right up near the West Gate Bridge, that was the day that we saw way more wildlife than the rest of the week.

That means that the river acts as a corridor: it’s the refuge for wildlife. We saw a whole flock of 50 yellow-tailed black cockatoos, a blue-tongued lizard, a couple of snakes. There was plenty of stuff going around. It was like, “Wow, I haven’t seen wildlife all week until today.”

What do you feel you learned from the experience?

That my body can recover pretty well. I mean I’m almost done in terms of the recovery, I’m pretty good.

But in terms of learning, well I think I didn’t even know how this is going to work until we did it. This actually really worked and drew people’s attention.

I think people were really craving to see this type of content, this type of campaign, but also to see that to connect with the river, you don’t have to be an environmentalist per se – you could just want to share that story of connection with your family or your friends.

Any reflections key memories that stick with you?

I think the main memory is that I was able to share this experience with my friends.

I didn’t want to do it on my own because I feel like this is not something just for me – it’s more of a community project. I wanted to share it with my friends, my work colleagues and other partners, and the rest of the community so they can experience it.

What about the finish? Did that feel good?

That was great. I’m like: wow, that’s it. I’m done. We’re done. We had a good time.

But yeah, after six days you really want to get home and have a shower.

And you doing this run to raise money for the Yarra Riverkeeper Association. Can you tell me a bit about what that money will go towards?

We do a lot of things in the organisation. We advocate to protect and engage community with the river and we have different projects going on at the moment – research on microplastics, particularly polystyrene.

Then we have regeneration projects. At the moment, the tally is we have planted over 27,000 plants at different places around the river.

We also like to engage with friends’ groups and support them with volunteer training. So, the money is going to help us keep doing the work that we need to do.

Are there other ways that people can help support Yarra Riverkeeper Association?

They can follow us on Instagram, on Facebook – and they can come to our events. Upcoming events are on our website. If they’d like to support the long term, they can also donate generally or become a member.

Do you have last thoughts that you’d like to share?

Well, I think we are pretty lucky in terms of the global context that we have a really healthy river right on our doorstep that we can connect with – and being able to acknowledge that and to appreciate that 70% of our drinking water comes from there.

If we want to keep having that value from the river, we need to give back somehow. It doesn’t need to be directly to Yarra Riverkeeper, but if you find some litter on the trail or next to the river, you can go and pick it up, and eventually, everyone in the community should be finding a way to give back to either the creek or the river.

You can support Karin and Yarra Riverkeeper Association by donating to Yarra Riverkeeper’s Run The Riverkeeper fundraising page. You can check out Karin’s epic Run the Riverkeeper daily runs over on Strava.

Meet Kate Brennan

Fed Square CEO, 2005-2013

Kate Brennan was appointed as Fed Square’s CEO in July 2005 – fewer than three years after we opened. She had to grapple with a host of challenges, including being in charge of a brand-new public space that was yet to find its identity and significance in the heart of Melburnians.

As part of our 20th anniversary celebrations, we spoke to Kate about her experiences at that time – what she learned and what has changed since.

Meet Buckett from GULL5

A shy guy, but that’s why everyone loves him. What’s under that hat, Buckett? He’s probably thinking deep things. Like about chips and stuff.

Meet Luke Millanta

NFT artist

Luke Milanta is a technology entrepreneur, games designer and artist. His NFT-based evolving digital artwork ‘Disconnected’, will be on display at Fed Square this weekend as part of its east-coast tour of Australia. We caught up with Luke to learn more about this work, why it’s important – and what people can expect to see.

Meet Sophia Brous

Creator of The Invisible Opera, for RISING

Sophia Brous is a theatre maker, performer, musician and curator. Her latest project is The Invisible Opera, making its Australian debut for Melbourne’s RISING Festival, only on this Friday and Saturday June 10 and 11 at Fed Square. The site-specific theatrical work is all about public spaces – where Fed Square, and the city of Melbourne itself, form crucial elements of the work. Intrigued? Us too!

We caught up with Sophia to find out what people can expect.

Meet James Henry

Composer for Unvanished

Unvanished is an artwork specially commissioned by Fed Square to mark the beginning of National Reconciliation Week. The work is by Barkindji artist Kent Morris and Studio John Fish – but it’s more than a stationary sculpture. Featuring augmented reality filter by creative tech company PHORIA that brings the sculpture to life, as well as dynamic lighting design that works in concert with a bespoke ten-minute composition by composer James Henry, the sculpture is truly an immersive journey that must be experienced in-the-flesh.

We caught up with composer (and photographer!) James Henry, to learn more about the sound composition – and we found out a few very interesting things!

Meet Dr Dino himself, Dr James Rule!

Palaeontologist at Melbourne Museum

To celebrate the Melbourne Museum’s Triceratops Dino Dig at Fed Square (opening April 11 until April 17, 2022) and Triceratops: Fate of the Dinosaurs exhibition at the Melbourne Museum, we got in touch with a bona fide dino expert (that’s Dr James Rule, Curatorial Research Assistant of Palaeontology at Museums Victoria) to ask him your kids’ (or your own!) DINO QUESTIONS!

You asked – he answered! Check out the Q&A below.

Robert Michael Young

The artist behind the Fed Square Letters

Robert Michael Young, a proud Gunnai, Gunditjmara, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta man and celebrated artist, has created murals in iconic locations, from Chopper Lane to Charcoal Lane. He’s been a contestant on Channel 10’s Making It, designed a jersey for the Richmond Football Club and shoes for Puma that he gifted to Prince Harry and Meagan – and now has created the eye-catching super-cool mural on our Fed Square letters. We caught up with Robert to learn a bit more about his art practice, the inspiration for the mural – and how art can change our perspective on life.

Meet Gulliver from GULL5

With his distinctive red and black sleeves and straight-off-the-oil-rig vibe, he’s one that you won’t tell your mother about. But she won’t be telling you about him either.

Meet Beakon from GULL5

Beakon sets hearts a-flutter with his full bad-buoy other-side-of-the-river sleeves, but don’t be fooled. He’s a sensitive guy and a dreamer. We caught up with Beakon this week to find out a bit more about the buoy behind the beak.

Meet Lyndal, ENESS's storyteller

How does an enormous, beautiful, light-up, inflatable fountain complete with calming soundscape like Cupid’s Koi Garden by ENESS come into being? It takes a team of highly talented creatives at innovative art-meets-science Australian company ENESS to birth such a beast, and we wanted to learn a bit more about the process, and what it’s like in the lab. To find out, we caught up with ENESS’s delightful Story Director and Conceptual Creative, Lyndal Hall, to learn more.

Meet Soraya Zaman, the artist behind Reconstruct (the) Normative

Australian artist Soraya Zaman spent three years travelling across the United States, capturing and recording stories and photographs of people in the trans-masculine community. The exhibition Reconstruct (the) Normative, opening at Fed Square on January 29 – as well as the book, American Boys Project (2019) – are the culmination of that journey.

Meet Loz, Fed Square Public Programming Producer and Harry Potter superfan (like: permanently inked-level superfan)

In the lead-up to the 20th Anniversary of the film release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and the Christmas in the Wizarding World celebrations at Fed Square on December 7, we caught up with Loz, who is producing the event.

We were keen to find out what is being cooked up in the cauldron for the day, and what it’s like for her working on a dream project like this one.

Meet Arun Sharma, Diwali Chairman and Festival Coordinator

Seventeen years ago, on a picturesque walk through a very young Fed Square, Arun Sharma’s wife Jaya sewed the first seeds of an idea that would develop into the Victorian Festival of Diwali at Fed Square. From its early years, it has grown into a festival where upwards of 60,000 people come together to celebrate Indian culture. While things have changed a little bit during COVID-times, the Victorian Festival of Diwali has managed to keep shining a light into people’s homes around the world, thanks to Arun and the team at Celebrate India. For this week’s Fed Folk, we caught up with Arun to find out more about how it all started – and what you can look forward to this Diwali.

The Ghost of Fed Square

Do you believe in ghosts? We’d heard whispers of a Fed Square ghost story and so of course we had to get to the bottom of it.

For our Fed Folk Halloween edition, we chased up the story with Nick, one of our security guards, who experienced the spine-tingling brush with the otherworldly while on duty one night.

It was a dark (and probably not stormy) night …

Meet Ellora, the fount of all Fed Square knowledge

Ellora Keeley, Fed Square event operations supervisor, Fed Square, September, 2021.

When you have a heritage-listed public square that’s not a square, that’s built over a train line, covered in undulating cobblestones and hosts thousands of events a year (in normal times), you want to have an events operations person that knows their stuff, right? Well, that’s Ellora. With an in-built mental data map of the whole site and the keys to the place, Ellora is one of a team of event operations staff that make things happen at Fed Square. We talked to her this week about what her job is like, what she’s been doing in lockdown – and about making friends with a duck at Sky Castle last year.

Meet Suranjan Kakshapti, who keeps Fed Square safe and squeaky clean!

Ever wonder why Fed Square always looks so fresh? Well, that’s thanks to Suranjan and the team of Fed Square cleaners that work hard to keep everything looking ship shape, clean and even more importantly since Covid-times – safe and sanitised. We caught up with Suranjan this week to find out more about his job, playing guitar to get by in lockdown – and what he’s looking forward to when we’re all back at the Square.

Meet Sarah Raftis, Fed Square’s creative mastermind

If you’ve ever met Sarah, you won’t forget her. She’s a dynamic creative that works like a hurricane: zooming around with ideas, picking up inspiration, churning it up and creating the amazing programming that you see at each year at Fed Square. Anything cool you’ve experienced at Fed Square: that’s because of Sarah. Anything you didn’t like? You can blame Sarah. Lol. Well, as she says herself, it can be a challenge working to satisfy everyone, but if anyone is up to the challenge: it’s her.

We caught up with her to find out what life being Sarah is like and how Covid-19 has thrown a few spanners in the works over the last 18 months.

Image: Sarah Raftis (left, in mask, at Sky Castle in 2020 at Fed Square) does not like having her picture taken, so this is what she sent us. We think it’s because she likes to maintain a secret identity, like Batman.

Meet Owen Crawford: the eyes and ears of Fed Square

We would like to introduce you one of our dearest treasures, Owen Crawford: the head of Fed Square’s on-site security team. He’s the guy that keeps you all safe when you’re in the Square, and right now, as an essential worker, he’s making sure Fed Square is safe and secure for when we return. We caught up with him this week to talk to the man behind the control room.

Meet Pierra Van Sparkes, assistant curator at Koorie Heritage Trust

Meet Pierra Van Sparkes, Pibbulman Noongar person, new assistant curator at Koorie Heritage Trust, talented artist and all-around superstar. As one of our newest Fed Folk, we caught up with Pierra to find out about their job, what’s happening at KHT, their art and how she’s been managing trying to keep the balance right while working from home.

Meet Joost, creator of Future Food System at Fed Square

Joost Bakker is the creator of Future Food System: a zero-waste, self-sustaining, closed-loop house that produces all the energy and nutrients it uses. Situated at Fed Square’s River Terrace and occupied by award-winning chefs Jo Barrett and Matt Stone, the house has functioned as a living eco-experiment, gaining worldwide public interest and media attention, including from The New York Times, BBC and CNN.

We caught up with Joost to talk about why he thinks the project has been such a smash-hit success, what he’s looking forward to, now that Future Food System is staying on at Fed Square until 2022 – and solving the world’s problems one veggie patch at a time.

Meet Sophie, curator at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

We recently caught up with Sophie, a curator at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, to talk about her job, art, how she manages working from home and what it’s like working here at Fed Square. Oh, and about a very unusual dinner party starring one of Australia’s most famous paintings!

Meet Ben, the Wizard of Fed!

Did you know there is a real human behind the huge Fed Square Big Screen? Well, that’s Ben. He’s the guy that programs what you see on all the various screens around the Square. Interesting job, right? Well, we recently caught up with Ben (our very own Wizard of Fed!) for a quick chat about his job, and his top lockdown tips.

Meet Anand and Anila

On Monday 17 May, Australian Citizenship ceremonies recommenced after nearly a year’s hiatus due to COVID restrictions.  We caught up with Anand and Anila, who both became citizens that day…