Who knew that Regency clothes, customs and culture could be so popular in Canberra? The Jane Austen Festival is now in its 10th year and attracts people from around Australia and overseas eager to step back in time for three days and nights beginning on Friday.
Husband and wife John and Aylwen Gardiner-Garden are behind the festival - she is the director, he teaches and runs the dances which take place every night. It grew out of the period dances they have regularly held as part of their dance group Earthy Delights for the past two decades on themes ranging from Pirates of the Caribbean to Shakespeare in Love.
John Gardiner-Garden said one of the dances was a Pride and Prejudice Ball that fell in April and has grown every year into the present three-day festival This would be the third year it would be held in the Albert Hall, he said, and as well as the dances it will feature lectures, games such as proto-croquet and proto-bowls, classes in watercolours, necklace-making, improv theatre with a Regency theme. and much more/ It was, he said, a time when ladies were ladies and gentlemen were gentlemen - a clue, perhaps, to Austen's enduring appeal, as well as her wit and social commentary.
"We have people coming from all around the country," he said. In the past people had travelled from countries such as the US, England, Indonesia, and New Zealand to take part in the festival.
Aylwen-Gardiner-Garden said the music, subjects activities ranged from the early 1700s to the mid-19th century, covering the period before and after the life of the celebrated novelist Austen (1775-1817) to increase the range of what could be covered. She noted that 2017 was the 200th anniversary of Austen's death but said ladies need not wear black dresses to the festival.
Camille Landy is from France but has been studying in Canberra for the past few years. She read some Jane Austen books in an English literature course at the University of Canberra and watched the related films and enjoyed the the music and dances.
"They're so beautiful and elegant," she said.
"I Googled it - 'Jane Austen dance Canberra' - and found [Earthly Delights] at ANU," she said. She enjoyed the experience so coming to the festival was an obvious next step. Landy will be presenting hairdressing techniques while there.
Julie Ho, a nurse from Hobart, heard about the festival through the Folk Festival of Tasmania. She had tried contradancing in June and was a fan of Jane Austen so she came up to experience this and the National Folk Festival. As well as "a lot of dancing" she said she intended to try bonnet-making, attend some lectures and morning-tea talks and other activities to make the most of her time here.
The Gardiner-Garden's 15-year-old son Alcuin has also been a part of his parents' activities for, as he put it, "my whole life". He said he liked the period dancing because "it's active" and presented many opportunities to meet new people.
As for Jane Austen, he said, "She's not that bad."
The Jane Austen Festival is on at Albert Hall from April 21 to 23. Bookings essential. janeaustenfestival.com.au.