Tony Hillier

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Issue #2 June 30th 2009: Kuranda Amphitheatre



The 2009 Far North Queensland music festival season starts in earnest on the first weekend of the month. ‘Kuranda Roots’ affords the opportunity to see some of the area’s and the country’s finest blues, reggae, dub and fusion acts strut their stuff in what is undoubtedly the North’s and arguably the State’s finest outdoor venue.


On a sunny mid-winter’s day and starry starry night, there is simply no better place to be than Kuranda Amphitheatre. It’s a crying shame that a venue that has hosted some of Australia’s greatest bands, including Midnight Oil, Redgum, the Eurogliders, Yothu Yindi, Goanna, INXS and Silverchair, is so scandalously under-used these days.


When a group of Kuranda hippies hatched a plan 30 years ago to build an amphitheatre in the rainforest, many Cairnsites dismissed it as the product of too much herbal consumption. It might not have been quite so fanciful as the legendary Fitzcarraldo’s crazy scheme to erect an opera house in the middle of the Amazon jungle, but it certainly was a daunting undertaking.

Nevertheless, with the assistance of 40 or so hard-working volunteers, under the leadership of the Kuranda Amphitheatre Society’s inaugural president, Brian Clarke, the dream became reality in 1981 when the Amphitheatre was officially opened.

The current broad cement stage was installed in the mid-‘90s. The upgrade also saw the creation of a 200-capacity understage area.

The Amphitheatre might acquire small grants from time to time — it got a $50,000 funding contribution from the State Labor Party a couple of years ago — but it receives no operational funding. The venue is run entirely by volunteers, and steered by a committee elected by KAS members.

Given the paucity of recent concerts there, perhaps it now needs more opportunistic management. Anyway, at least it will be back in public focus for Kuranda Roots ’09, albeit for one weekend only. Former local resident, now Brisbane-based, Morgyn Quinn organizes the event. “Mooncat”, of Hot Rubber Glove fame, runs a sister event, called ‘Island Vibe’, annually on North Stradbroke Island.

Kuranda Roots ’09 was originally scheduled for the last Saturday in June, but was swiftly shifted to Saturday July 4th (gee whiz that date rings a bell!) when Quinn heard that Kiwi roots-meisters Salmonella Dub had been booked to play the Tanks that night.

This year there’ll be a Kuranda Roots hors d’ouevres on the Friday night at the Understage, a great little venue situated below the Amphitheatre’s main stage. It’ll be worth attending, if only to see the FNQ debut of a dynamic 8-piece Polynesian and PNG-driven Brisbane band called Chocolate Strings that made a big impact at The Dreaming festival at Woodford recently. The Choccies produce a veritable buffet of beats, bass and acoustic grooves

Local reggae groovers Patch Up, who also made a good impression at The Dreaming, are part of the local contingent in Saturday’s line-up, along with high energy reggae rappers Zennith (pictured), vocal harmony specialists Koahlition and the revitalized Gudju Gudju. These four give the event a strong indigenous core.

Melbourne blues rocker Ash Grunwald will be the chief drawcard for many punters, though for mine he’s over-rated and over-exposed. I’ll be more interested in catching Sydney band Kingtide, who boast one of the country’s finest drummers in Terrapai Richmond (The Whitlams and DIG).

Other acts include: The Nomad, Mystic Beats, Melotonin, Bandawalla Moons Billy Dread, Little Rascal, Ombudsman and Huckleberry.

The festival kicks off at midday, and continues for 10 jam-packed hours. Take plenty of sunscreen and a floppy hat and chill-out under the Kuranda sun (and later the stars!). Tix through and at Shiva Moon, Shi Sha Beads, Fetish 4 Life, and Kuranda DVD Shop.

Tony Hillier