Katherine Junk Festival a celebration of rusty cans, barbed wire, broken lawnmowers and creativity

Katherine Junk Festival a celebration of rusty cans, barbed wire, broken lawnmowers and creativity
  • PublishedJune 9, 2024

It took Michelangelo four years to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

It took about the same amount of time for Brendan Penzer’s dogs to eat through enough tins of food to supply the materials for his new sculptural masterpiece. 

“I see potential materials for art in everything,” he said.

A man in a black cap looks at the camera. Over his shoulder is a sculpture of a dog made from tins and lawnmower parts.
Brendan Penzer with his dog sculptures.(ABC Katherine: James Elton)

“All the tins you see … have been consumed by my dogs. And in fact, all the materials in these sculptures have been collected from my own property.”

His trio of scrap-metal dogs are built on a frame made from discarded builders’ sawhorses, with heads made from broken lawnmowers.

They were created for Katherine’s Junk Festival – an annual celebration of recycling that draws crowds of thousands to the Top End regional hub.

A couple inspects a sculpture made from rusted tins.
Festival-goers react to Brendan Penzer’s dog food tin sculptures. (ABC Katherine: James Elton)

Mr Penzer’s work is a rusty reflection on the sometimes wasteful use of water.

“You see a lot of water being used to grow these green lawns, which are quite alien to this environment,” he said.

“So the two lawnmowers have broken down over time trying to cut through the grass that grows in the wet season.”

On a distant stage, people are seen in bright costumes. People sit on chairs watching.
A crowd watches a performance at the Junk Festival in Katherine. (ABC Katherine: James Elton)

From Hollywood to the Junk Festival

Penny Fawkner’s former job as a commercial sculptor saw her work on films including Babe: Pig in the City and the Matrix series.

But she says she much prefers rummaging through sheds for junk to turn into art for the Junk Festival.

“I love the fact that we’re using all junk, because one of the things that used to worry me when I was working in the industry was, just so much wasted material went into it,” Ms Fawkner said.

A closeup of a woman's face. In the background is a white statue with an illuminated halo around her head.
Penny Fawkner with her junk sculpture that plays on the motif of Mary and baby Jesus. (ABC Katherine: James Elton)

“If you were doing movie stuff, some of it didn’t even make the cut.”

Her sculpture draws attention to the suffering of civilians in the war in Gaza.

“It is a simple message of love and peace.”

A woman twirls in a dress partly made from newspapers.
Creative costumes like this newspaper dress are paraded on the main stage at Katherine’s Junk Festival. (ABC Katherine: James Elton)

Ms Fawkner says the junk festival is a way of democratising art. It is “not elitist”.

“Everyone can have a crack without causing a massive footprint.”

The Met Gala of rubbish

On festival night, the centrepiece is a runway parade of costumes made from junk.

A woman wearing a fish hat.
One of the elaborate junk costumes worn to Katherine’s Junk 
One of the elaborate junk costumes worn to Katherine’s Junk 

“People love to dress up,” said organiser Jacinta Mooney from Katherine Regional Arts.

“This is dressing up in junk … people who you wouldn’t think would be necessarily interested in that.

A man wearing a hat that spurts water in the air, using a pump.
Festival-goers make elaborate hats and costumes from household junk. (ABC Katherine: James Elton)

“I guess it’s a safe environment to be able to do that because everyone else is looking silly as well.”

The town’s market grounds were full of a crowd that represented a cross-section of Katherine’s diverse community. 

“There aren’t many events that people from all quarters of the community come along to — and this one is famous for that,” Ms Mooney said.

Like many outback towns, Katherine does not have curbside recycling.

Ms Mooney said that leads to people developing a crafty resourcefulness to get what they can out of what they have.

“We aren’t able to go and buy something off the shelf necessarily, so you do have to be a bit more creative,” she said.

A woman in a bright floral dress dances on a stage, while others clap around her.
Organisers say the Katherine Junk Festival brings together people from the Top End town’s diverse communities. (ABC Katherine: James Elton)

“It’s about repurposing stuff, reducing what we consume and recycling. 

“Recycling’s pretty hard … in an outback town like ours, but junk fest is a reminder to people to think about what they consume.”


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