Tortuga Festival

By Adam Norris

You may have heard the name before; Tortuga, the bawdy isle that pirates once called home. Though the days of swashbuckling on the high seas may have sailed, the excitement of piratical revelry will soon return for the latest festival to grace Mid North Coast shores. A perfect time, in other words, to find a sword-swallowing strongman for the inside scoop.

“I’m trying to bring a variety of art to Port Macquarie in the one place,” says festival curator Gordo Gamsby. “One show you’ll see Monica Trapaga singing with a band, and next you’ll see Head First Acrobats, we’re getting someone from Byron who does amazing bubble shows, and I mean, who doesn’t love bubbles?

“I have been around these [circus] people for a long time in all sorts of different places, and I just enjoy going to see shows. Whenever I go to these festivals – like, I just came from Adelaide Fringe – I think how being exposed to that many different things is just great, and I’d love to build something in Port Mac that can evolve into something like that, where there’s something for everyone. Something where maybe people will see something that they won’t necessarily have seen before.”

It was never Gordo’s dream to run away and join the circus. Nor was it his dream to cement his name in the pages of the Guinness Book of Records not once, but thirteen times. Yet that’s exactly what the Fates had in store for the Port Macquarie performer, seeing him wander the world in the company of cabaret and circus folk, honing his record- busting crafts.

“I think you don’t fit in the other boxes, so you look for another box,” he says of his journey.

“I’ve done circus, I’ve done juggling and unicycles and that sort of stuff, but it’s just something you’re drawn to. Both my parents are school teachers, and dad gave me advice of never become a teacher. But it really started at school. Slippery Circus came to my school at Wauchope, and I must have been 14 or 15 and started doing circus workshops as a school sport. I wasn’t really drawn to most of the regular sports that were offered, and I started doing circus workshops and it just went from there. Danny, who runs it, he got me and another guy a grant to go to the Tasmania Circus Festival, and there we met lots of people, and the owner took me under his wing and introduced me to his world, and it went from there.

From Wauchope, Gordo has adventured around the globe, meeting all manner of performers along the way. It was invaluable experience, particularly when it came to deciding what type of acts he needed to make this inaugural festival one for the history books. But first, you need somewhere to actual stage these shenanigans, and where better than a bona fide Spiegeltent?

“I spent probably close to twenty years touring around Aus and the world, going to festivals, music festivals, art festivals, renegade festivals, and there’s just something special about a Spiegletent. When you go in one, you feel the history of it, you feel the grandeur. It’s so temporary, but it looks like a permanent structure. To see a show in there… It’s hard to explain. It’s such a unique feeling. And I really wanted to bring that to Port Macquarie. I grew up there, and there wasn’t a lot of art. There were a few community things happening, but nothing of this scale. So I thought what better way to start Port Mac’s journey than with a Spiegeltent?”

Such are the beginnings of the Tortuga Festival, and though peg legs and eye-patches may be thin on the ground the philosophy of that faded pirate bastion – a place of refuge and spectacle – lives on.

“Tortuga was set up by this pirate in the Caribbean as a place for pirates to go to talk shop, down tools, no fighting. They could strategise about what they were doing. I think Port Macquarie would be an amazing place for performers to come to, and hopefully try shows out, try new things, and I think the people around our area are a great audience for that to happen.”

WHAT Tortuga Festival

WHERE Westport Park, Port Macquarie

WHEN 11-13 June