May 18, 2023
Wine & Dine

Let the festival begin

Adelaide Festival chief executive Kath Mainland and her partner Ray Anderson brought a touch of Scotland to the table when they hosted a rustic dinner party for friends, who also just happen to be some of Adelaide’s most prominent arts identities.

Ray and Kath, with dog Jarla, are used to putting on big events.

As she bustles about her kitchen preparing gourmet offerings for guests, it’s easy to decipher that Kath Mainland hails from Scotland.

If the Scottish songs playing in the background don’t give it away, the huge bowl of haggis on the kitchen counter might do the trick.

“Have a try,” says Kath, passing a teaspoon of the famous Scottish dish. “I’ve got haggis on the menu because I was in West Lakes Shopping Centre recently and there’s a little cheese deli there and they had a haggis! We couldn’t believe it, so we bought it and it was really good.

“Haggis gets a bad rap because it’s made of all the leftover bits, what Heston Blumenthal would call the entrails, and then it’s wrapped in the lining of a sheep’s stomach. But it’s delicious.”

Kath and Ray brought in friend Kate Brew to help style their rustic shed for the special evening.

Kath and her partner Ray Anderson moved to Adelaide last year after Kath was appointed new chief executive of the Adelaide Festival.

The couple had been living in Melbourne, where Kath held other high-profile arts roles including the executive director and co-CEO of the RISING cultural festival and CEO of the Melbourne International Arts Festival.

However, regular visits to Adelaide for various arts events over the past 20 years have seen Ray and Kath make lifelong friends here, some of whom are on tonight’s guest list.

“Perhaps it was inevitable that we’d end up here in Adelaide, it was meant to be,” Kath says. “After the pandemic hit, we could have gone back to Scotland, but we thought we’d keep moving and Adelaide is the big one when it comes to festivals; when you are overseas this is the one everyone talks about.”

In fact, tonight’s guest list could double as a roll call for some of South Australia’s most prominent arts leaders.

They include Adelaide Festival’s new artistic director Ruth Mackenzie, who is in high spirits tonight as she chats with SA’s Minister for the Arts, Andrea Michaels, discussing a beachside apartment she’s just made an offer on.

There’s also Slingsby Theatre Company’s artistic director Andy Packer and actor Edgell Junior, who stars in the latest Slingsby production The River that Ran Uphill premiering at this year’s Adelaide Festival.

Other guests include Nick Hays, executive director of the Australian Dance Theatre, whose show The Tracker is another Festival highlight, plus Clare Watson and Kaye Weeks, both from Windmill Theatre, whose latest offering Hans & Gret is also a centrepiece of this year’s program.

Unsurprisingly, as guests enjoy pre-dinner drinks and canapes of salmon blinis, there’s a lot of chat around rehearsals, opening nights and production schedules.

Ray and Kath look calm and organised, chatting as they continue handing out nibbles and keeping an eye on the oven, as their dog Jarla mingles and takes in all the action.

“We are festival people,” Kath says, unphased. “We’re used to putting on big events.”

Another element of Kath’s Scottish heritage is reflected in tonight’s menu – Highland Park whisky. The arts identity grew up on Orkney, a windswept archipelago off the northeast coast of Scotland.

The main island attracts thousands of visitors each year thanks to its thriving food and drinks culture, including a couple of world-famous whisky distilleries. One of those is Highland Park whisky and tonight it not only features in the entree (mushrooms with haggis and gruyere with a whisky sauce), but also on the drinks menu for those guests wanting a wee whisky tipple.

Entree is served – mushrooms with haggis and gruyere with a whisky sauce.

Growing up, Kath used to help in the kitchen with her mum Bertha and grandmother, Barbara, whom the family lived with.

“Mum had a pressure cooker and slow cooker and granny would help, as would my older sister Babs,” Kath says. “It was a pretty traditional meat-and-veg menu, but Orkney has amazing beef, lamb and fish. It’s very self-contained so it feels like a small rural community.

“Everyone’s door is always open for a cup of tea and a home-baked scone. We would get a ‘piece and jam’ after school, which is a jam sandwich basically, bread with homemade rhubarb jam.

“It’s a bit like South Australia in that Orkney has amazing produce on our doorstep. Many years later everybody appreciates that, but I grew up in the ’70s and we didn’t talk about the provenance of our food back then.”

The notion that food brings the family together was very important in the Mainland household and Kath’s parents ensured they all sat down together each night to enjoy the evening meal. Forget the idea of eating in front of the television – dinnertime was about being at the table, being together and sharing stories of the day.

The arts crowd included Slingsby’s artistic director Andy Packer.

“That was very much passed down to us and the idea that it’s not just about food and cooking, it’s the idea that food is a way of showing love, and when you spend time with people and break bread with people that’s how you really get connections and look after each other,” Kath says.

“I love when people come to stay and you feed them, you do home baking and you have a scone or a biscuit. It’s not necessarily about entertaining, it’s about, ‘You’re in my house, are you hungry?’ and looking after people and showing love.”

There’s a lot of love in the room tonight as guests make their way to an old corrugated iron shed in the backyard. The rough and ready surrounds have been miraculously transformed into an intimate, rustic dining space, complete with draped white fabric, lights and candles, flowers and serviette holders made of rosemary sprigs.

“Wow, who’s getting married,” says Andy Packer.

Adelaide Festival’s new artistic director Ruth Mackenzie.

Before food is served, Kath does a quick speech, welcoming everyone and commenting on the world-class artistic talent that we have here in South Australia, which is well represented around the table.

Kath’s own artistic journey began as a child when she learnt to play the piano and won the junior musician of the year award in Orkney when she was 12.

Music runs in the family – her father Tommy is a fiddle player and composer, and her sister Babs and nephew also play the fiddle.

“Orkney has an amazing tradition of classical music and holds a festival called St Magnus Festival, which our parents would take us to as kids,” Kath says.

Kaye Weeks, executive director of Windmill Theatre Company.

“When I was growing up all of the national arts companies, so the Scottish Opera, the ballet, they all toured everywhere including Orkney, so we had this amazing access to what was going on in the rest of the country and, in particular, the performing arts, which is pretty special.

“The arts and going to the theatre and music, it’s like anything else, if you learn to do it when you’re young, you form the habit and you’ll have that for the rest of your life.”

After finishing school, Kath tossed up university options, and “laboured under the illusion” that she might study music and become a performer.

She mentioned this to her piano teacher who said, “No, don’t do it, you’re not good enough”.

“God love her, she was right, but I didn’t listen,” Kath says. “I got to Glasgow and did music with all these people who were incredibly talented and driven and prepared to put in a huge amount of time. And I was not.”

Actor Edgell Junior, seen here chatting with Christie Anderson who is artistic director of Adelaide Chamber Singers.

Kath then realised that there was still a life to be made in the arts by helping others.

She majored in English and did a post-graduate course in accountancy to create foundations as an arts administrator. Her first job was in 1991 as an administrative assistant at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Years later, Kath ended up as chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival and she has held many other high-profile arts roles over the past 30 years. She was awarded a CBE for services to culture in Scotland in 2014 and is very vocal about the importance of the arts, its place in society, and the way it brings people together.

“The arts are very good at reflecting what we’re all worried about or what society is conscious about, what’s exercising us at the moment,” she says. “A festival has an ability to bring people together in a way in that moment in time. Festivals are about pilgrimage and congregation and being together in a hot room with people who may not think the same as you, but you are all swapping ideas and waiting to be convinced.

The menu reflected Kath’s Scottish heritage.

“There’s this idea that it’s a safe place where we can explore ideas or be exposed to ideas that we’ve never heard before and have a conversation about it and come to a place of agreement or gentle disagreement.

“But festivals can be fun, too, so you have your respectful exchange of ideas, but you can also have a right good laugh because there’s a whole lot of people having the same experience as you. It’s just like a dinner party, really.”

Ideas are certainly being explored tonight and there’s plenty of laughter around the table as the Sidewood wines flow and the main course of beef wellington with potatoes and greens are served.

Kath chats with good friend Christie Anthoney, head of public affairs at the Adelaide Festival Centre, whom she first met back in 1992 when they both worked on the Edinburgh Festival.

“We’ve been friends ever since and Christie is one of my oldest friends,” Kath says.

The menu took a lot of work to pull together in the kitchen.

Kath’s partner Ray, an electrician by trade, has also worked in the world of music for many years in the UK, mainly on big outdoor festivals and rock concerts. However, since moving to Adelaide he has set up his own handyman business called “Ray Helps” and he is living up to his business name tonight, not only as a great chef but also, with a tea towel over his shoulder, helping clear dishes away and keeping proceedings moving at a good pace.

Christie Anderson, artistic director of Young Adelaide Voices and Adelaide Chamber Singers, is also a guest at tonight’s soiree and one of the artistic forces behind the Messa da Requiem extravaganza.

Other guests included SA’s Minister for Arts Andrea Michaels, second from left, sitting next to Australian Dance Theatre’s executive director Nick Hays.

The dessert, after-dinner mint mousse, is served and the crowd devours it and looks around – hungry for more.


This article first appeared in the March 2023 issue of SALIFE magazine.

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