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From the nation’s most talked-about art prize to a communal ‘exorcism’ by torchlight, Australia comes alive with unforgettable experiences in winter. Here are five events you definitely shouldn’t miss.

By Dan F Stapleton
Published: 09 June, 2017

The temperature may dip during the Australian winter (June to August), but there’s still plenty going on in our big cities, which tend to squeeze many of their most exciting cultural events into the cooler months. Art lovers are spoilt for choice, with major exhibitions galore, while those who prefer to take shelter in a cosy cinema can attend a cutting-edge film festival. Meanwhile, in Tasmania, you can embrace the winter weather at Australia’s most atmospheric outdoor gathering.


When: 26 May – 10 September

Expect to be challenged and surprised at the latest National Indigenous Art Triennial, the most significant exhibition of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander art in Australia. It’s on at the National Gallery in Canberra. Subtitled Defying Empire, this collection of works by more than 30 of the country’s best practitioners examines a range of challenging issues, such as trauma, dispossession, racism and nuclear testing. There’s a huge range of media, including metalwork, glasswork and painting on canvas and bark. If you’re looking for an overview of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art that ventures beyond the obvious, this is it.


Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe, Brisbane, Queensland

When: 27 May – 3 September

Even if you don’t follow the Marvel comic-book universe, you’ll be impressed by this major undertaking. The largest Marvel exhibition ever held in a museum traces the company’s history from its print origins in the early 20th century to its current status as the world’s most profitable film franchise. More than 500 historic artworks, iconic film props such as Iron Man’s armour and Thor’s hammer, and actual film sets, including some from the forthcoming Thor: Ragnarok epic, are on display at this Brisbane exhibition. Check online for tickets to a range of associated special events, including talks with Marvel artists and lectures on the company’s significance.


Huon Valley Mid-Winter Festival, Tasmania

When: 14 – 16 July

There’s no better place in Australia for a wintry celebration than Tasmania, the rugged island south of the mainland that boasts some of the country’s most stunning scenery and best food and wine. In July, the Huon Valley near Hobart is the scene of Mid-Winter Fest, which combines pagan rituals with modern-day revelry to great effect. After the welcome ceremony with fire twirlers, wander among orchards and take part in wassailing, an ancient ritual meant to scare away evil spirits. Afterwards, feast on some of the region’s most sumptuous produce, including free-range meats and small-batch cider.


When: 29 July – 22 October

Art fans go crazy for the annual Archibald Prize, which was first awarded in 1921 and is open to any Australian who can paint a portrait. The entries are dazzling and diverse, from photo-realistic depictions of our best-known celebrities to intimate oil paintings of urban heroes and unsung community figures. The winning painting is announced in July each year and is displayed, along with several dozen finalists, at a hugely popular exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, in the centre of Sydney. Exhibition attendees can also see the finalists for two other major prizes: the Wynne (which celebrates landscape painting) and the Sulman (which recognises subject painting and genre painting).


Melbourne International Film Festival, Victoria

When: 3 – 20 August

Considered the Sydney Film Festival’s edgy younger sibling, the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) packs a heavyweight punch with a winning mix of arthouse must-sees, Hollywood blockbusters and some of the most interesting films being made in Australia. This year, as well as the latest works by auteurs Terrence Malick and Sally Potter, the Melbourne festival presents two new features by Australian Kriv Stenders, including a highly anticipated documentary about legendary Aussie band The Go-Betweens. There’s also a sci-fi retrospective that includes a special presentation of René Laloux’s Fantastic Planet, accompanied by a live score by Melbourne jazz band Krakatau.