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Festival City Stories 30 Sep 2022
When Francene first began volunteering at the Festival, she didn’t know the extent to which it would open her world up to new ideas and experiences. Now, after volunteering for more than three decades, the Clearview raised former Adelaide City Councillor speaks about the power of our festival city.
Francene sits across from me, wearing red lipstick that matches her red jacket and red shoes.
Born in Clearview in 1956, she comes from humble beginnings. A mother that was a home maker and a father who was a seller at a local theatre, but retired early due to a bad heart.
‘We grew up really poor and I guess at the time I didn’t really appreciate that, because we were surrounded by love, had a really loving family, and I had everything I needed,’ said Connor.
It was when she met a young man, with friends from the eastern suburbs, and who played on the University Lacrosse team, the young man that would later become her husband, that Connor first began to understand the inequalities that exist in our city.
‘I guess I saw that there was a big gap between those who had money and those who didn’t, and the experiences they could have in life,’ said Connor.
However, learning about the privileges she did not have and understanding the challenges of her life were not seen as burdens for Connor, but rather as opportunities to make a difference. She first undertook a role at the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s Office with the hope of solving problems and making change in her community. While she never felt illusioned with grand notions of changing the world, finding small and effective ways to give back to society have always been at the centre of her agenda.
‘I sort of had a bit of a sense of justice that I felt it was important to live in a just society,’ said Connor. One thing led to another and she eventually became a member of the Adelaide City Council as an elected member. However, she hadn’t predicted that her efforts to affect change would soon be through the arts, or more specifically through volunteering for the Adelaide Festival.
It was when Connor and her husband first opened their Hindley Street restaurant in the 1980s that they first began to see the effects of the festival in Adelaide. During festival season, they would have guests from all over the world, though they had still never attended any festivals themselves until they travelled to Scotland for the first time.
‘We found ourselves at the Edinburgh Festival, and that was the first time we’d ever been to a festival, and we thought, ‘This is what people are coming to Adelaide for!’ said Connor.
This was the beginning of a new chapter in Connor’s life. She first became involved as a ‘Friend of the Festival’ which functioned as a group of supporters who would support and take an active role in decision making at the festival.
“The Friends have sort of stepped aside and the Festival is run by the Festival organisation itself. But in those days, we organised all the volunteers, and so that naturally led me to being a volunteer.’ Connor explains that the volunteers formed a community and a strong bond around the festival.
‘It’s like coming together every year with your friends, ‘And what will we do this year?’ said Connor.
Connor’s first volunteering experience was in an information booth in the Festival Theatre. Connor loved being able to greet guests, strike up conversations and help them find their way. She’s since volunteered in many other parts of the festival including Adelaide Writers’ Week. However, Connor makes sure that when she’s not volunteering, she’s making the most of the flood of talents that occupy Adelaide.
‘When I buy my tickets, I buy two and I then work out which of my friends I’m going to take with me and, hopefully, introduce them to some of the joys of the Festival,’ said Connor.
She describes the festival as magical and sees it as an opportunity to challenge herself to explore new forms of art and music, such as the Parov Stellar Band which she believes opened her eyes to a whole new genre of music. However, the highlights of her most recent festival experience has been working at the Plastic Bag Store in the 2021 Adelaide Festival.
‘The message about recycling and how the oceans of the world are just full of plastic and how we just are leaving such a terrible legacy for the future. Lots of schoolchildren came in and just couldn’t believe what they’d built out of plastic, you know. There were cakes and fruit and every package – convenience package – you could imagine in a store. So it looked, for all intents and purposes, like a small supermarket, and some people even came in thinking they’d be able to pick up some milk or something,’ she said, laughing.
It is these kinds of opportunities to witness arts as a learning tool, as a medium to create change and immerse people in new experiences that Connor wishes her parents were able to experience.
‘I really want them to know what the world has got to offer – what’s out there for them,’ said Connor, making it her current mission to ensure her nieces and nephews will have this opportunity in the future.
This article is part of the Festival City Stories series, a collection of reflections about Adelaide made by the people who make this a festival place. The project was funded through the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Arts South Australia, Arts Recovery Fund, and delivered in partnership with the State Library of South Australia.
Written by: Manal Younus
Photography by: Thomas McCammon
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