10 years of sold-out events: a chat with Secret Garden director Clare Downes

There’s no place quite like Secret Garden. Every year for a decade they’ve sold out before even announcing the festival’s lineup. The fact is, everyone knows it’s going to be the time of their lives.

As Secret Garden grows closer to selling out its eleventh edition, we caught up with Clare Downes, one of the legends who’s been planning the festival since day dot.

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Photos courtesy of Secret Garden

What’s the most batshit thing the Secret Garden team have seen in the last 10 years? We take five with festival director Clare Downes.

HAPPY: Hey Clare, how are things? What are you up to at the moment?

CLARE: Oh hey there. I’m great. This is a fun time of year for me. I’m deep into Secret Garden planning, which basically means back-to-back meetings with some of the most talented people I know, pulling together the best party our brains can dream up. It’s so good!

HAPPY: Secret Garden is 11 this year! When you had that first party did you ever think it would grow to this size? Even just as a pipe dream?

CLARE: A pipe dream for sure. I also never thought it would be this much fun for so long.

HAPPY: It’s a long time to keep it fresh. What do you think keeps people coming back to Secret Garden?

CLARE: I think we have such a loyal following because it’s quite unique. It’s not line up driven. Rather the music is as important as the costumes, massive installations, the interactive stuff, theatre, dancers and the never ending forest.

It stays fresh because of the amazing team of creatives (architects, designers, builders, prop makers, performers) that have an endless resource of new ideas. We have way more ideas than we have space. It can be a brutal idea culling process.

HAPPY: The Friday theme has just been announced, how is that decided upon each year? I’m imagining a very serious, board of directors seated around a table deal, of course.

CLARE: Oh yeah, that’s how we should do it. It’s the team of 150 creatives who all come up with a big selection of ideas. Then we all vote for the best. No boardroom table sadly, but suit wearing is optional.

HAPPY: Speaking of, did you have a favourite costume from last year?

CLARE: A rock, a piece of paper and a pair of scissors. They came up to me and my friend and asked what one we choose. Then the rock and paper tackled each other to the ground. Excellent stuff.

HAPPY: I love that you give your installation artists so much freedom – it makes the reveal an experience even for the team of organisers. What’s the one piece over the years that made you just say, “what on earth?”

CLARE: Last year my brother headed up a team that built a Trojan (party) Horse which could fit about 15 people inside. We then tracked down some Gardeners on facebook, who come each year in a big crew costume and asked if they would dress as Romans. They were so amazing. They took this massive horse through the forest, planting it in the middle of the dance floor and burst out of it to join the party. At one point they managed to get the horse to the front of DZ Deathrays. The horse, DZ, everyone loved it. I really like that Secret Garden is a festival where anything goes.

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HAPPY: Who else is in the team of organisers that we have to thank? Secret Garden always feels like it’s being run by a really caring, amazing community.

CLARE: Yeah that’s true, the team that put it on are incredible. Most volunteer or reduce their normal fees, to help us raise money for charity. My parents who own the farm donate it to us each year.

We all do this because we love a fun party. There is nothing like Secret Garden and when we first started out we thought rather than complain about the party that’s lacking in our lives, let’s just create our dream one.

HAPPY: Only Two Night Disco tickets are still on sale, how close are we to that sweet sweet lineup reveal?

CLARE: As soon as we have sold out, which isn’t far off. So, very soon I think!

HAPPY: How many times per day do you get asked about said lineup?

CLARE: You’re the first today. But that’s because it’s been 11 years and I think people know they aren’t going to get much from me.

HAPPY: Cheers for the chat!

CLARE: Thank you!

Secret Garden Festival takes place on February 22 and 23, 2019 at the Downes Family Farm, 90 minutes from Sydney. Limited two-nighter tickets still on sale – get them while they’re hot!

If you’ve already grabbed your tickets, check out our 5 Secret Garden costume ideas.