• Former mayor Brad Pettitt is dealt with by Freo’s revolting women.

Festival of misrule reboots

DODGY STEVE is a dodgy Western Australian heritage consultant and Board member of the Fremantle Carnival Authority who is currently working with Woodarse Energy Pty Ltd to transform the world’s oldest and largest outdoor rock art gallery (the Burrup Peninsula) into an industrial wasteland, and the earth’s climate into a fan-baked oven.

SINCE 2020, Carnival celebrations around the world have been cancelled or postponed due to Covid.

But in the People’s Republic of Fremantle, after a break since 2016, the Fremantle Carnival Authority is pressing ahead with an ambitious schedule of Covid-safe events on Saturday February 26 (the last weekend of Carnival), to mark this important annual global ritual of renewal.

Established in an East Fremantle backyard in 2009, Fremantle Carnevale was inspired by the Festival of Misrule celebrated in parts of Europe, Latin America and elsewhere. Migrants to Australia have long celebrated Carnival amongst themselves, while the Carnival tradition of eating pancakes on ‘Shrove Tuesday’ has survived in the wider Anglo-Australian community. 

Although Rio and Venice’s commercialised Carnivals are well known, many celebrations take place far in small communities off the beaten track where the tradition is closer to its pagan roots. 

Community members (mostly unpaid amateurs) spend months preparing for the collective ritual of renewal, excess and abandon held mid-January until the last day of Carnival, known as Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras or Martedi Grasso. 

Ash Wednesday then ushers in Lent, the 40 days of abstinence and repentance leading up to Easter, which was instituted by the Catholic Church. 

Carnival is derived from the Latin carne vale – farewell to the flesh – and signifies the last chance to indulge in meat (and other pleasures!) before Lent.

Some have linked it to the Roman midwinter festival of Saturnalia, presided over by a King or Lord of Misrule, where slaves were given temporary liberty.

Carnival’s ritualised inversion of social roles is expressed through masquerade, cross dressing and the mockery of establishment figures such as politicians, the church, army and police. 

Carnival has often provided an outlet for discontent with the ruling class, and has been banned by fascist dictators, on the pretext that masks might provide a perfect cover for leftist insurgents to launch a revolution.

Many Italian Carnivals (including Freo’s) are presided over by a King who embodies the spirit of excess and irreverence. 

On Shrove Tuesday the King is put on trial before an absurd Carnival tribunal, charged with ludicrous crimes and made a scapegoat for the festive uproar. 

After a fake execution (and sometimes a burning in effigy), a mock funeral procession takes place – here to a wake at Clancy’s Fish Pub, with a heavily pregnant Widow of Carnival (a man in drag) in tow. The widow assures the royal succession for next year’s Carnival by giving birth to a baby Carnival King.

True to ancient tradition, several well-known public figures have shared the sad lot of the King of Carnival in Fremantle, including former Cockburn mayor Stephen Lee, Wilson Tuckey, Julian Assange, Twiggy Forrest, Clive Palmer, Alan Jones, Colin Barnett, Donald Trump and prime minister Scott Morrison (at the height of the 2020 bushfire crisis). 

Former Fremantle mayor Brad Pettit was also a regular focus of popular mockery during the Weiberfastnacht (German Women’s Carnival) adapted from the Carnival of Cologne, in which revolting women of Fremantle arrest the mayor, seize control of the city and cut off his tie in a ritualised act of castration. 

The recent election of Hannah Fitzhardinge is an obvious technical challenge for the carnival authority, which may introduce a practice from Germany’s Rhineland region in which the local mayor is instead tarred and feathered…

2022 Carnival events

Saturday February 19

German Karneval. Rhein Donau Klub, 110 North Lake Rd,  6.30pm Melville.

Monday February 21

Black Orpheus film screening. Fibonacci Centre, 19 Blinco St, Fremantle, 7.30pm.
*WA Health Covid guidelines apply

Friday February 25

CarnavAUS 2022 Brazilian Beach Carnival, Port Beach Garden Bar & Brewery, 6pm-midnight.
Tix: Eventbrite

Saturday February 26

Carnevale pre-party – kit up in Carnevale costumes & masks.
Fibonacci Centre, 19 Blinco St. Fremantle, 4-6pm.
*WA Health Covid guidelines apply

Carnevale Mystery Masquerade Ramble through the People’s Republic of Fremantle.
Featuring Swiss Carnival band The Guggeburras & other performers 6 -7.30 pm

Carnevale Party & Concert. Clancy’s Fish Pub, 51 Cantonment St, Fremantle, from 7pm; line-up begins 8.30pm. Tix $18 through Oztix or from Clancy’s Freo website. *WA Health Covid guidelines apply

For up to the minute details, see Facebook: Carnevale of the People’s Republic of Fremantle

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